Malawi opposition rally against election 'robbery'

Lilongwe (Malawi) (AFP) - Malawian opposition supporters marched through the capital Lilonge and burst into government offices Tuesday to protest against alleged fraud in elections last month that returned Peter Mutharika as president.

Backers of the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) allege their leader Lazarus Chakwera was robbed of victory in the May 21 election, which an official count showed he lost by just 159,000 votes.

Protestors swarmed into ministerial and civil servant offices after about 3,000, according to an AFP estimate, marched from MCP headquarters to Capital Hill, the seat of the Malawi government, chanting anti-Mutharika slogans.

"People are demanding that Chakwera, who won the elections, must be sworn in as the president," participant Eliah Kamphinda-Banda told AFP.

The march, dubbed: "For Malawi to rise, Mutharika must fall" attracted protesters dressed in the MCP's red and green colours, bringing central Lilongwe to a standstill.

"We wanted to show the current regime that it is not supposed to carry out its duties unless a proper count of the votes is done," said MCP official George Zulu.

"What we are doing are peaceful demonstrations. These marches will go on until this government steps down."

- 'Daylight robbery -

Chakwera has rejected the outcome as "daylight robbery" and launched a court battle to have the result annulled on the grounds of fraud.

Last week, police used teargas to disperse Chakwera supporters gathered outside the party headquarters.

The MCP has said there was correction fluid on some election results sheets while others some from polling stations far apart bore the same handwriting.

"We say no to Tippex elections," said a pamphlet for the march.

"Whether you voted for us or not for us, I am your president. I am the president of all Malawians," Mutharika said after his inauguration Friday.

EU deputy chief election observer Mark Stephens told AFP his team "acknowledge there were a lot of mistakes that were made in the tallying".

"Our observers have been trying to collect as much detailed information as possible," he said.

Mutharika, of the Democratic Progressive Party, was declared the victor with 38.57 percent of the vote, pipping Chakwera on 35.41 percent.

Third-placed presidential contender Saulos Chilima has also alleged "serious anomalies" in the poll.

The DPP also won the parliamentary vote held on the same day.