Ghostly rodents drive Malawi's President out of his 300-room home

The President of Malawi has moved out of his luxurious, 300-room mansion, insisting the building is haunted. President Bingu Wa Mutharika claimed he felt ghostly rodents crawling over his body when the lights were turned out in his home on the outskirts of the capital, Lilongwe.

The President of Malawi has moved out of his luxurious, 300-room mansion, insisting the building is haunted. President Bingu Wa Mutharika claimed he felt ghostly rodents crawling over his body when the lights were turned out in his home on the outskirts of the capital, Lilongwe.

He has moved to another palace in Mtunthama, a town in a tobacco-growing area 60 miles away, until clergy can exorcise the spirits. Neither his bodyguards nor his wife, the First Lady Ethel, have detected any supernatural presence in the house.

Last May, when Mr Mutharika, 71, came to power, he threw Malawi's parliament out of the New State House and claimed it for his personal use, ignoring protests that he was reneging on election promises to cut government spending. Parliament has not been able to meet since September because of the lack of an appropriate venue, and is to reconvene in March in rented offices. Parliamentary committees have had to conduct their business in motels and at one point MPs have considered using a sports stadium for their debates.

Now clergy from the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvary and Faith Of God churches have all been asked to offer prayers for the building. As well as the rodents, Mr Mutharika insists he has heard footsteps and strange noises in the presidential suite at night.

The Rev Malani Ntonga, the presidential aide on Christian affairs, told reporters ghosts would not be allowed to harm the President. He added: "No strategy designed from the pits of hell will prosper against the President because we have asked for divine intervention to cast the blood of Jesus against any evil plots against the President.''

The mansion was built by Malawi's founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who ruled the country as an autocrat for 28 years from 1966. The house took 20 years and $100m to build and is set on 555 hectares. Mr Banda himself lived there for only 90 days. His successor, Makili Muluzi, who came to power in 1994 through the country's first multi-party elections refused to use the building, calling it "obscene opulence'' in one of the poorest countries in Africa.

Mr Muluzi later became known for being as extravagant as his predecessor, but his early decision to turn the palace into parliamentary offices after failing to find an international buyer, won him widespread approval at home and abroad.

Mr Muluzi and Mr Banda lived most of their terms in office at the Fanjika Palace in Malawi's commercial centre, Blantyre. President Mutharika said New State House was better suited to be a private residence than a parliamentary building.

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