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Malawi Confirms President’s Death; Vice President Steps Up

BLANTYRE,Malawi(AP): Malawi’s government confirmed Saturday that President Bingu wa Mutharika is dead, and the vice president moved to take charge after more than a day of uncertainty over who was running this impoverished southern African country.

In a statement, Malawi’s chief secretary, Bright Msaka, said 78-year-old Mr. Mutharika died on Thursday. “His Excellency the President Ngwazi Professor Bingu wa Mutharika, who suffered cardiac arrest at the State House in Lilongwe at about 11:15 a.m. on Thursday, April 5, 2012, was confirmed dead on the same day upon arrival at the One Military Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa,” Mr. Msaka said in a statement.Vice President Joyce Banda on Saturday moved to take charge of the country by holding a news conference at which the Cabinet ministers appeared and by calling for 10 days of national mourning.

“I wish to direct that all national flags at public buildings be flown at half mast and that the Malawi Broadcasting Corp. and private media of goodwill will play somber music,” she said at a news conference at her official Area 12 residence in the capital, Lilongwe.

Under the constitution, the vice president should take over to complete Mr. Mutharika’s term, due to end in early 2014.

Ms. Banda had clashed with Mr. Mutharika and had been expelled from his party. The delay in announcing his death had led to speculation that politicians were squabbling over succession.

Mr. Mutharika had favored his brother, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Arthur Mutharika, over Ms. Banda, appointing him as acting president when he traveled. On Friday, Mr. Mutharika’s party had named the brother as its acting head, though the party didn’t then confirm Mr. Mutharika’s death.

Mr. Mutharika, the president, was a former World Bank official once heralded for his stewardship of one of the world’s poorest countries. In recent years, he had been accused of trampling on democratic rights. He first came to power in a 2004 election and was overwhelmingly re-elected five years later.During his first term, Mr. Mutharika persisted with a program to help farmers buy fertilizer even though Western donor nations and agencies said subsidies should be avoided in a free market. His subsidies were credited with boosting Malawi’s economy.

In more recent years, the economy has stumbled, with shortages of fuel and foreign currency and high unemployment.

Antigovernment demonstrations across Malawi last year were met with an unprecedented security crackdown that resulted in at least 19 deaths.

Malawi’s relations with foreign donors had been strained by accusations that Mr. Mutharika is authoritarian and responsible for human-rights abuses. Last month, a U.S. aid agency that rewards good governance suspended $350 million of assistance to Malawi.

Published Date: Saturday, April 7th, 2012 | 02:14 AM

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