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Four more arrested in alleged Malawi coup plot

Written by: Staff

BLANTYRE, May 3 (Reuters) Four more senior members of Malawi's main opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) have been arrested on charges of plotting to assassinate President Bingu wa Mutharika, police said today.

The move follows Friday's arrest of Vice President Cassim Chilumpha -- the UDF national chairman who has been locked in a political stand-off with wa Mutharika over his government's anti-corruption drive.

Police said Humphrey Mvula, a one-time aide to former President Bakili Muluzi, was arrested along with a former aide to Chilumpha, the UDF's central region governor and a former ambassador to Libya.

''They have been driven to Lilongwe and are expected to be formally charged today in connection with the assassination attempt on the president,'' police spokesman Willie Mwaluka said.

Chilumpha's arrest marked a dramatic turn in his stand-off with wa Mutharika, who attempted to have him sacked as vice president earlier this year but was blocked by the high court.

A lower court yesterday rejected a request for bail by Chilumpha's lawyers, who had argued that their client was granted immunity by his office. They are expected to appeal that decision later today.

Wa Mutharika won office under the UDF flag but ditched the party in a power struggle with predecessor Muluzi after launching an anti-graft drive that won praise from foreign aid donors.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Henry Phoya told Reuters last week that Chilumpha ordered a prominent businessman to hire a professional hitman to kill the president.

Chilumpha's lawyers call the charges a political witch-hunt.

Police have already arrested at least three opposition leaders in connection with an alleged plot.

Malawi has been racked by political tensions, with the opposition calling for the president to be impeached and foreign donors warning that aid to the country of 11 million people could be in danger if wa Mutharika were ousted.

Chilumpha, a lawyer, is a Muslim and commands strong support among the country's 3 million Muslims, a powerful voting bloc.

Reuters CH DB1337

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