Malawi's new president moves to heal political divide

Malawi's Joyce Banda on Saturday told supporters there was no room for revenge as she was sworn in as Africa's second only female head of state in modern times after the death of the divisive Bingu wa Mutharika.

Banda offered the conciliatory words following two days of political intrigue in which Mutharika's inner circle tried to block her assuming the post, which fell to her as vice president under the terms of the constitution.

Thunderous applause and joyous singing broke out as Banda completed her presidential oath. She then called for a moment of silence for the man she hailed as a father to the nation.

But she did not shy away from the divisions provoked by Mutharika, who had expelled her from the ruling party.

"I want all of us to move into the future with hope and with that spirit of one-ness and unity," she said.

"I just sincerely hope that there is no room for revenge. I just sincerely hope that we shall stand united," she added.

Mutharika died after a heart attack on Thursday amid calls for his resignation following deadly anti-government protests last year accusing him of wrecking the economy and trampling on democracy.

Following her expulsion from Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party, she formed her own People's Party -- a move that the late president's allies had argued should disqualify her from succeeding him.

But amid pressure from Western and African powers for a peaceful and constitutional transition, Banda appeared Saturday flanked by the army and police chiefs to call a special cabinet meeting and assert her authority.

"I would like you to know that we felt the Holy Spirit in that room, and I would like you all to know that it was a good meeting", she said.

"For me that was significant, because that is the starting point for healing the wounds of this nation."

"I want to sincerely thank Malawians and all people living in Malawi for the respect of the law shown by the peaceful transition of the presidency," Banda added.

Soldiers meanwhile guarded the parliament grounds and took over security at state radio and television stations, as the army publicly backed the transition between civilian leaders.

Mutharika's face still beamed down from billboards on the capital's streets, with his portrait on walls in government offices and private businesses.

Malawi declared 10 days of mourning, and had yet to announce plans for his funeral.

Banda is the second African female head of state in modern times after Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

She faces the challenge of leading a country whose parliament is dominated by Mutharika's party, at the head of a cabinet that includes ministers vocally opposed to her.

"There was quite a lot of tension and we are glad that it has turned out to be peaceful," said DPP lawmaker Kezzie Msukwa.

"The party has taken it painfully. However, I think everybody now agrees that we have to go the way that we are going."

Mutharika, a former World Bank economist who first came to power in 2004, was re-elected with a sweeping majority in 2009.

But he increasingly came under fire for attempts to rein in the media and to shield the government from public criticism.

His feuds with donors and lenders such as the International Monetary Fund have hamstrung the economy in this aid-dependent nation.

Now Malawi is suffering from shortages of foreign currency that have left it unable to import enough fuel.

When public frustration erupted into nationwide street protests in July, police shot dead 19 people. Last month, a broad coalition of rights groups called on Mutharika to resign.

The international community however was generous in its tributes to Mutharika.

The African Union said Saturday that Africa had "lost one of its great sons"

"He was rightfully credited with boosting Malawi's economy, especially in the agricultural sector," AU Commission chief Jean Ping said in a message of condolence sent to new President Joyce Banda.

A statement from the European Union remembered him "as a champion of food security in Africa and for his success in achieving national food security in Malawi."

And the Commonwealth expressed its condolences, calling for a "peaceful and constitutional way forward" in a statement Saturday.

  • Thursday #sgroundup: Body found of boy who made first call from Korea ferry: report 17 minutes ago
    Thursday #sgroundup: Body found of boy who made first call from Korea ferry: report

    Here are today’s top trending stories in case you missed them.

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 11 hours ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners 12 hours ago
    Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners

    Buyers of Ferraris or Jaguars are used to perks from manufacturers – including racetrack lessons to help master their exotic machines. But for enthusiasts on a tighter budget, the Ford ST Octane Academy might be the sweetest deal in motoring: Buy a Ford Fiesta ST or Focus ST hatchback, and the reward is a free day of training at one of America’s longest, most-lavish road courses.

  • David Moyes statement after Man United firing
    David Moyes statement after Man United firing

    Statement released by David Moyes on Wednesday, a day after Manchester United announced he left as manager after less than a season in charge.

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • Indonesian general says his flashy watch is a fake
    Indonesian general says his flashy watch is a fake

    JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's military commander said critics who called him out for wearing an especially luxurious watch should be quiet because the timepiece is actually a cheap Chinese fake.