Blantyre - Police clashed with protesters demanding a recount of Malawi's disputed presidential elections Friday, as the country nervously awaited a court decision on last week's vote.
In the southeastern town of Mangochi, police fired teargas at more than a hundred demonstrators who claimed that the election was rigged, witnesses said.
Anti-riot police in the commercial capital of Blantyre were stationed at strategic areas of the city, as the high court was due to rule on a last-ditch attempt to force a recount.
After hearing arguments from both sides,judge Kenyatta Nyirenda told the court: “When the ruling is ready, counsel will be informed.” There was no immediate indication of when that might be.
The electoral commission has admitted having come across evidence of “anomalies” in the vote, but chairman Maxon Mbendera said Thursday the election was “free, fair and transparent and in my assessment, credible.”
He has vowed to release the results by the end of Friday in compliance with the electoral laws, unless the court intervenes to force a 30-day extension for a recount.
The protesters in Mangochi were members of the People's Party of President Joyce Banda, who was trailing in third place in early results from the election.
Others were from the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), whose candidate Lazarus Chakwera was in second place and has asked the court to order a recount.
This has been opposed by lawyers for the leader in the early results, Peter Mutharika, 74, the brother of former president Bingu wa Mutharika.
An eyewitness said the Mangochi protesters had wanted to march to the local district's government offices but instead rampaged through the streets, tearing down campaign posters.
“When police tried to stop them, they got angry and started stoning the police. Police then teargassed them,” said Kandodo, a freelance journalist for a local newspaper.
Police denied reports that they had used rubber bullets and that a protester had been killed.
“We only used teargas,” said police officer Elijah Kachikuwo, adding that calm had returned to the fishing town near Lake Malawi.