Malawi president's brother a candidate for top role

MALAWI'S ruling Democratic Progressive Party has endorsed embattled president Bingu wa Mutharika's brother as the party's possible candidate in 2014 elections - a move that could inflame opposition to the president.

State radio said yesterday that Peter wa Mutharika, a retired US law professor and the current education minister, would be the party's likely candidate for the next general election.

"The National Governing Council has nominated Professor Mutharika to contest for the post of presidential candidate during the DPP's next convention," presidential and party spokesman Hetherwick Ntaba was quoted as saying.

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Protesters last month staged unprecedented rallies against the president that left 19 dead and led to international rebuke.

Opposition groups have given the president a mid-August deadline to listen to their demands, promising fresh protests if he does not address the nation's chronic poverty.

The move is likely to weaken the ruling party and fuel discontent in its ranks - several MPs and officials resigned after the violent response to protests.

Malawians, frustrated by a chronic lack of foreign exchange and fuel that they say belies the economy's stellar growth statistics, want Mr Mutharika out.

Mr Mutharika, a former World Bank economist, has presided over six years of high-paced but aid-funded growth.

But earlier this year he became embroiled in a diplomatic row with Britain, Malawi's biggest donor. A leaked embassy cable referred to him as "autocratic and intolerant of criticism", which led to the expulsion of Britain's ambassador to Lilongwe.

In return, Britain expelled Malawi's representative in London and suspended aid worth $550 million over the next four years.