By Charles Pensulo
BLANTYRE, March 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Protesters took to the streets in Malawi's capital on Wednesday to demand the government step up protection for people with albinism following a spate of murders and attacks driven by an underground trade in their body parts for black magic.
The march comes amid fears that people with albinism could be at increased risk ahead of elections in May as candidates seek out lucky charms to boost their chances of victory.
It also follows outcry over the kidnapping and murder of a 14-year-old boy with albinism last month.
Protest organisers said 300 people with albinism had travelled to Lilongwe from across the country to take part in a three-day vigil near State House along with opposition leaders, human rights organisations and grassroots groups.
Timothy Mtambo, executive director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, a Malawian rights organisation, accused the authorities of turning a blind eye to the attacks.
"There is nothing that has been done apart from giving empty promises and yet our brothers and sisters with albinism are facing attacks every day," he said by phone.
Homeland Security Minister Nicholas Dausi declined to comment when contacted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
He was widely criticised by human rights activists last month after saying the attacks had not reached "crisis levels".
Malawi is one of the most dangerous countries for people with albinism - a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes – whose body parts can fetch high sums.
There have been about 150 reported attacks since 2014, according to Amnesty International.
The vigil began a day after the resumption of a trial of 12 people accused of murdering a 22-year-old man with albinism a year ago. They include a priest, a doctor and a police officer.
Overstone Kondowe, head of the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi, said people with albinism were living in fear ahead of the election.
"It's a very fearful period for us because many people here believe in charms, and we're talking about 500 people contesting different positions in the election," Kondowe said.
Amnesty said there had been two murders and three abductions since New Year's Eve. The victims include a one-year-old girl snatched at night as her mother slept and a 54-year-old man killed in front of his nine-year-old son.
A U.N. expert on albinism has said people with albinism in Malawi - estimated to number up to 10,000 - risk "extinction" due to the violence.
Some people with albinism want the government to declare Malawi unsafe for them so that they can seek asylum abroad.
Six people with albinism will contest the May elections in a bid to tackle the stigma and violence they face. (Writing by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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