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Malawi president vows not to answer call to resign

Associated Press

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) – Malawi’s president said Thursday he won’t bow to calls for his resignation before his term ends 2014 and says he may even aim to become “life president.”

President Bingu wa Mutharika said he will not leave his official duties “even when the going gets tough.”

A top civic rights body has called on him to quit over a crackdown against opponents _ including the arrest Tuesday of an ex-president’s son _ and his handling of a deepening economic crisis in the impoverished southeast African nation.

At a meeting on water conservation, Mutharika departed from a prepared speech to declare he won’t call a referendum on his rule.

“This is my answer … I won’t answer again,” he said. “According to laws, I’m supposed to step down in 2014 but I want to remind you that I have an unassailable majority so that if I want to stand for a third term, or a fourth term or indeed be a life president I can do it, even those in opposition can vote for me.”

It was his first response to the calls by the respected Public Affairs Committee for him to immediately announce a referendum to be held within 90 days to renew his presidential mandate, or quit his post within 60 days.

Mutharika was elected in 2004 on the ticket of the United Democratic Front party of former president Bakili Muluzi.

Muluzi’s 34-year-old son Austin was arrested Tuesday after violence at a political rally he addressed on Sunday. Police said rioters torched a police station, freed prisoners from the cells and stole a rifle.

Mutharika had founded his own Democratic Progressive Party after nine months in power in 2004 and forced some of his political allies into opposition.

On Thursday, Mutharika said he overwhelmingly won a second five-year term in 2009 and as a result he could decide whether to run for a third term in 2014 or stay in power longer. Malawi’s constitution limits the president to two terms.

He said was not ready for further dialogue with his detractors.

His party won more than half of parliament’s seats in 2009; dozens of independent lawmakers also pledged their allegiance to him.

Succession squabbles immediately after the elections slowed the economic gains of Mutharika’s first term and scared away traditional donor nations.

Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, expelled the top British top diplomat in Malawi after a leaked cable to Britain’s foreign minister last year described him as “increasing becoming autocratic and intolerant of criticism”.

Britain, Germany and U.S. and European Union donor agencies and Western financial institutions later cut or suspended aid and loans. That led to acute shortages of hard currency and a burgeoning illegal black market in money, gasoline and other essential goods including medicine.

Violence erupted during rare anti-government demonstrations on July 20 last year in which at least 19 protesters died in police action to crush protests against Mutharika.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)