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Tear gas as US ambassador meets Malawi opposition leader

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — The United States ambassador to Malawi was caught up in political unrest as police fired tear gas while she met with an opposition leader on Thursday, while police acknowledged some of the gas wafted into the U.S. embassy nearby.

Departing Ambassador Virginia Palmer was meeting in the capital, Lilongwe, with Lazarus Chakwera at his party headquarters a short walk from the embassy. Chakwera finished a close second in last month’s presidential election and has gone to court to challenge the results , and his Malawi Congress Party supporters have been holding protests.

A U.S. State Department official confirmed the meeting and said the ambassador was safe and had been in no danger, as no one was targeting her. The official added that the U.S. calls for restraint on all sides as Malawi’s High Court resolves election disputes.

Police told The Associated Press they had not been aware the ambassador was inside the party headquarters when they pursued and confronted protesters outside.

“When the police were firing tear gas we did not know anything until when she came out of the office,” police spokesman James Kadadzera said.

The U.S. Embassy later warned against travel to and around the embassy and MCP headquarters “until further notice.”

In a national address on state television Thursday night, President Peter Mutharika accused Chakwera’s opposition party of “mobilizing illegal demonstrations” and trying to cause chaos in the southern African nation after a peaceful election. His address did not mention the tear gas incident. Mutharika, who has dismissed opposition allegations of corruption during his first term, again called for unity.

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