Controversial Mugabe plaque dismantled in Malawi

Hurt by President Robert Mugabe's poor human rights record, angry protestors in Malawi have dismantled and dissappeared with a police-guarded plaque inaugurated by the Zimbabwean leader about three weeks ago.

The inauguration followed criticism of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika by the civic society to honor Mugabe by naming a major highway after him. Civic groups argued at the time that Malawi should not have given Mugabe such an honor, especially after his ruling Zanu PF party displaced an estimated 700 000 people last year, according to the United Nations, during a government sponsored crackdown on illegal structures and businesses. They also argued that Mugabe should have been the least person to be honored after his government closed four independent newspapers that the organizations described as a violation of the UN Human Rights Charter that gurantees freedom of expression, which Zimbabwe ratified. The naming of the road sparked controversy with civil society organizations threatening to stage demonstrations. The situation was served by the malawian leader who made passionate pleas to the civic society to halt the proposed demonstrations a few days before the arrival of Mugabe for the inauguration ceremony. A Malawi Police spokesperson, Rhoda Manjolo, confirmed the theft of the plaque saying about 30 people overpowered the two police officers who were assigned by Mutharika's government to look after the plaque round the clock. “Our officers saw these people and they tried their best to save the plaque. But the vandals were too many for our officers", said Manjolo. The official said no person is yet to be apprehended following the theft but revealed that police have launched massive investigations into the matter. Meanwhile, Malawi transport and public works ministry has orderered the immediate replacement of the plaque. The erection of the plaque drew criticism from several quarters with Japan having openly criticized Mutharika's government for honoring Mugabe, considered by British Primier Tony Blair as a "disgrace". However Mutharika's information minister, Patricia Kaliati, says Malawi does not regret honoring the Zimbabwean leader. The opposition accuses Mugabe's government of harassing its members and mismanaging the country's once vibrant economy. But Mugabe blames the economic crisis on sabotage by western governments opposed to his policy on land reforms, especially Britain and the United States.