Malawi mourns VP amid protests over plane crash response

By Frank Phiri

BLANTYRE (Reuters) - Malawians gathered to mourn Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima amid heavy security on Monday, a day after people from his home district launched protests over the government's response to the plane crash that killed him and eight others last week.

Chilima, 51, was laid to rest in his village of Nsipe in the district of Ntcheu, about 160 km (100 miles) southeast of the capital Lilongwe.

The evening before, crowds - who said officials did not move quickly enough to mount a search and rescue mission when the military plane disappeared - blockaded the road and threw stones at vehicles in the funeral cortege as it arrived.

At one point on Sunday evening, a car travelling on the main road crashed into the crowd, killing four people and injuring more than a dozen, police said.

President Lazarus Chakwera, who has called for an independent investigation into the plane crash and the response, attended the burial on Monday but did not address the mourners.

Political and religious leaders called for calm.

"Let's remember the Vice President by observing peace and maintaining calm, which he always preached," said Archbishop Thomas Msusa of the Blantyre Archdiocese, one of the officiating clergy.

Chilima was the leader of the United Transformation Movement party. He partnered with Chakwera to form the ruling Tonse Alliance and was his running mate when they secured their 2020 election victory.

Relations between the two, however, had become tense ahead of the 2025 presidential election in which the vice president was expected to challenge the president.

Chilima was arrested in 2022 over graft allegations. However, a court dropped the charges against him last month after the director of public prosecutions filed a notice for the case to be discontinued. Chilima had denied any wrongdoing.

(Reporting by Frank Phiri; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Andrew Heavens)