BLANTYRE—Police, who fired teargas Monday to disperse rowdy vendors who are refusing to move from the streets to a flea market in the Malawi capital, Lilongwe, arrested 42 people suspected of causing trouble.
Lilongwe police spokesman Kingsley Dandaula told maravipost.com the running battles ensued early morning at the expiry of the deadline the Lilongwe City Council gave the vendors to move out of the streets and operate from designated flea markets.
"The vendors, city authorities and us (police) agreed that all vendors must move out of the streets by today (Monday, February the 6th) but others were still resisting," he said.
Most offices, banks and shops closed immediately the clashes begun for fear of looting that normally follows such mayhem. But Dandaula said armed police officers were strategically stationed on street corners to check any trouble.
"We are patrolling the streets, we are in control of the situation now, no shop or office was looted, people can now move freely in the streets," he said.
But despite the police assurance tensions were still high in the city as the vendors played hide-and-seek with the police, pelting the officers with stones
at any opportunity.
Eye-witnesses said the vendors begun pelting stones at the police when they razed down their make-shift stalls and confiscated their merchandise.
Boulders and burning tyres blocked some roads while some of the vendors vented their anger at shops and private vehicles. Dandaula, the Lilongwe Police spokesman confirmed these reports.
"A number of vehicles and shops have been smashed but we are still tabulating how many," he said.
Dandaula said 42 suspects were in their custody.
"More arrests are being made as we speak but those we have in our custody are 42," he said. "They have been charged with Conduct Likely to Cause Breach of Peace and Unlawful Breaking (into buildings.)"
Authorities in the city gave the vendors two weeks to clear off the streets when some vendors went about stripping naked women who wore trousers and mini-skirts. The vendors’ chairman, Steve Malunga, apologised to the women on behalf of the vendors, saying those who were stripping women were not genuine street vendors but unemployed youths and thugs.
"All vendors will move to the flea markets by Monday, February 6, and will be issued with proper IDs (Identity Cards)," he told a press conference he
addressed alongside police and city authorities. "Those who will remain in the streets are not vendors but thugs."
But some of the vendors who remained in the streets dismissed Malunga as a ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) operative.
"He's not our chairman but a DPP official," said a vendor who gave his name as Steve. "There is not enough space in the flea markets to accommodate all of us."
Malawian cities have always grappled with the menace of street vending since the dawn of multiparty politics in 1994. Street vending is blamed for the untidy look of most streets and an increase in pick-pocketing. When he came to power in 2004 Pres Bingu wa Mutharika vowed to clear the streets of vendors but each time he has unleashed the police on them he has met stiff resistance.
---©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment