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Malawi Opposition Leader Released

October 21, 2002

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LILONGWE, Malawi (AP)_ Opposition leader Gwanda Chakuamba was released on bail Monday after a judge ruled there was not have sufficient grounds to hold him, his personal secretary and two opposition lawmakers on defamation charges.

Chakuamba, the leader of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party, was arrested Sunday along with his personal secretary, Grace Mhango, and parliamentarians Demster Chikhawo and George Lowe were arrested Monday morning.

The government ordered the four arrested on defamation charges alleging that Chakuamba impersonated President Bakili Muluzi by signing the president’s name to a controversial letter on statehouse stationery.

The opposition dismissed the charge as a political ploy and said the country’s constitution prevents the arrest of lawmakers while Parliament is in session.

The arrest came amid a government crackdown on opponents of a constitutional amendment that would allow Muluzi to run for a third term when his second five-year term expires in 2004.

On Friday, Parliament expelled two ruling party lawmakers who had declared their opposition to the amendment, which was narrowly defeated in July and is expected to be resubmitted.

Muluzi also has ordered the army and police to suppress any demonstrations against the proposed amendment.

The letter Chakuamba is accused of writing spelled out strategies for ensuring the passage of the amendment. It appeared to be signed by Muluzi.

The third-term debate has split Malawi, with opponents arguing Muluzi was trying to impose a dictatorship while supporters say Malawians should have the opportunity to vote for Muluzi again.

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