Malawi police have arrested Atupele Muluzi, an upcoming opposition leader, and charged him for going ahead with the rally without permission from local authorities.
Atupele’s supporters are suspected to have set fire to a police station, a police car and a house of an officer in one of Lilongwe’s most populace townships of Area 24 when armed police disrupted his rally over the weekend.
His arrest is likely to raise tension in the destitute southern African nation that was last year rocked by the police killing of 20 people in similar protests.
Atupele, 33, was taken to Lumbadzi police, about 40 km outside Lilongwe, were his lawyer Jai Banda he was charged. He is still under police custody.
He is one of the younger leaders of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and a son of former president Bakili Muluzi who ruled Malawi for a decade.
Atupele, 33, is among a new generation of politicians and has a large following, especially among the youth who make up over 60 percent of the population.
UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala described Atupele’s arrest as political persecution designed to silence Mutharika’s critics.
This is also the second high profile arrest in less than a week. Police also detained the outspoken chairman of the government’s Human Rights Commission which has blamed President Mutharika for inciting violence in the southern African nation.
Atupele’s arrest will likely cause more protests in Lilongwe, which is already under heavy police patrol. It will also sour the mood for donors to the country that has traditionally relied on aid for about 40 percent of its budget.
Last week activists gave the president a 60 day deadline to account for his wealth, address the chronic fuel and dollar shortages that have added to the misery of the poor and restore diplomatic ties with former colonial master and major aid donor Britain. Similar demands led to the July protests.
Atupele was arrested at Bunda Road Block about 6 kilometres outside the city at around 12.30 in the afternoon and was taken to Area 3 Police Station before he was briefly transferred to Police Headquarters in Area 30. Later he was taken to Kanengo only to be taken back to Area 3 Police before finally driven to Lumbadzi Police Station.