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Tension, Controversy Overshadow Mugabe State Visit to Malawi

A visit by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to Malawi took place amidst tension in the host country over an alleged plot to assassinate Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, and controversy over giving Mr. Mugabe's name to a local highway.

The two presidents attended a dedication ceremony in Blantyre on Thursday in which the Midima Road connecting the commercial capital with Mulanje, a major suburb, was named for Mr. Mugabe over the objections of Malawian civic organizations.

Protests threatened by the human rights groups failed to materialize and some of the groups said they had received death threats from state security agents.

The Council for Nongovernmental Organizations in Malawi issued a statement saying that it objected to honoring Mr. Mugabe despite his historical role in the liberation of Zimbabwe from white minority rule because of restrictive legislation in Zimbabwe impinging on personal liberties, and "erosion of access" to basic amenities.

Separately, Malawian rights activist Emmie Chanika said local advocacy groups were working on another strategy to protest the honor accorded Mr. Mugabe.

Chanika explained to reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe why some Malawians so strongly oppose putting Mr. Mugabe's name on the road.

The European Union, which funded the construction of the highway, has expressed its dismay at Lilongwe's decision. But EU development and humanitarian aid spokesman Amedeu Altasha Tardiyo said that while Brussels has objections to Harare’s human rights record, countries have a sovereign right to name their roads as they wish.

Mr. Mugabe's visit was overshadowed by fallout from an alleged plot to assassinate President Mutharika alleged to have been masterminded by Vice President Cassim Chilumpha. By Thursday, 14 people had been arrested including the vice president. His lawyer was seeking his unconditional release, saying Malawi's high court has yet to rule on whether Chilumpha's office accorded him legal immunity.

VOA reporter Peter Clottey sought perspective on the imbroglio from political editor Mavuto Banda of the independent Blantyre newspaper The Nation.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...