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Banda begins purge in push for aid

(File image) Malawi's new president Joyce Banda (left) has purged the government of her predecessor in a bid to attract fresh foreign aid.

(File image) Malawi's new president Joyce Banda (left) has purged the government of her predecessor in a bid to attract fresh foreign aid.

Published Apr 10, 2012

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Lilongwe - Malawi's new president - Joyce Banda - used her first official day in office to purge members of her predecessor's government, including the information minister suspected of being in a high-powered group trying to block her ascension to office.

Many in aid-dependent Malawi have called on Banda to restore diplomatic ties frayed by her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika, who died of a heart attack last week, and resume suspended foreign funding that traditionally accounted for about 40 percent of the budget.

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Banda said she was in talks with major donors Britain and the United States to resume suspended aid packages worth nearly $1-billion. She has also spoken with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I want all of us to move into the future with hope and a spirit of unity,” Banda told a news conference.

Among those sacked are information minister Patricia Kaliati and the head of state TV and radio. Banda also fired police chief, Peter Mukhito, widely believed by civil society groups to bear responsibility for an unprecedented attack by police on anti-government protesters in July 2011 that left 20 dead.

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Banda promised more changes in the coming days with many believing she will dismiss other Mutharika loyalists.

Banda, a 61-year-old policeman's daughter who has won international recognition for championing the education of underprivileged girls, has widespread support among a population whose lives grew increasingly difficult under Mutharika.

During the Easter weekend, she was sworn in as president becoming southern Africa's first female head of state, raising hopes for a fresh start in the small, poor nation after the death of her mercurial predecessor.

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Banda was expelled from Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2010 after an argument about the succession but kept her post as vice-president.

Malawi was one of the world's fastest growing economies after Mutharika took office in 2004, averaging seven percent expansion between 2005-2010 thanks to internationally funded fertiliser subsidies and seed programmes that turned the nation of subsistence farmers into food exporters.

But the aid cutoff and Mutharika's steadfast ways put the economy on a death spiral, sparking shortages of foreign currency and rampant inflation of consumer goods. Petrol pumps ran dry, leading to queues stretching for kilometres at service stations, while thousands lined up daily for scarce sugar.

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“Banda will be the best president this country has seen if she can get the donors back and end these queues for petrol and sugar,” said taxi driver Alexander Mpaso. - Reuters

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