Africa on riot alert over first eclipse of millennium

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The Independent Online

Thousands of tourists will flock to the states of southern Africa today for the first solar eclipse of the millennium, prompting fears that ignorance of the event could lead to rioting and blindness.

The eclipse begins in the South Atlantic and ends in the Indian Ocean and will be seen in Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar.

Police forces in some countries are on alert for riots and mass panic during "totality" ­ when the Moon completely covers the Sun ­ at 2.15pm BST.

Some southern Africans believe eclipses are portents of doom. Witch doctors in Madagascar have been warning people to stay indoors.

The last total solar eclipse seen in southern Africa was in 1835, when the ethnic Ngonis, escaping from the Mfecane wars in South Africa were about to cross the Zambezi river. They retreated, thinking that the eclipse was a bad omen. The Ngonis will hold a commemoration today in the Luangwa valley, one of the main eclipse view sites in Zambia.

Zambia, which is expecting the lion's share of tourists, has declared a public holiday. The country expects a $15m windfall from eclipse visitors. Hotels in Lusaka and towns that dot the eclipse path are booked beyond capacity. .

Professor Jay Pasachoff of Williams College in Massach-usetts said: "Watching the eclipse is a unique phenomenon. It is the only time Jupiter, Venus and Mercury make a daytime appearance. It is a spectacle like no other."