Saturday, 12 March, 2005, 19:52 GMT

'Ghosts' scare off Malawi leader

Footsteps and other strange noises reportedly disturbed Mutharika

Ghosts - some taking the form of rodents - have forced the president
of Malawi to move out of his state mansion, officials have said.

Bingu wa Mutharika has been sleeping away from the 300-room building
in the capital, Lilongwe, and only comes there to work during the
day, an aide said.

Christian clergy have been asked to help exorcise the "evil spirits"

Controversy has raged over the costly palace which housed parliament
until Mr Mutharika's election last year.

"The president is no longer staying there and we have asked clerics
from several Christian churches... to pray for the New State House
to exorcise evil spirits," said Malani Mtonga, the presidential aide
for religious affairs.

Another aide who did not want to be named told the Associated
Press: "Sometimes the president feels rodents crawling all over his
body but when lights are turned on he sees nothing."

Mr Mutharika is believed to be staying temporarily at another palace
in Mtunthama, about 100km (60 miles) from Lilongwe.

'Obscene opulence'

Critics have accused him of going back on election promises to trim
government spending in the impoverished state.

MPs are having to rent a venue for when parliament reconvenes at the
end of March, after a gap of six months.

At one stage, it appeared they might have to meet in a sports
stadium and parliamentary committees have met in a motel.

The president justified his decision to evict parliament by arguing
that the New State House had originally been built as a presidential

Kamuzu Banda, Malawi's founding president, spent only 90 days in the
palace which took 20 years to build and cost $100m.

With its 300 air-conditioned rooms, it is set in 555 hectares (1,332
acres) of land outside the capital.

When Bakili Muluzi, Mr Mutharika's predecessor, came to power in
1994 he refused to live there, condemning its "obscene opulence".

Instead, he used the Sanjika Palace in Malawi's commercial capital,

BBC News.