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 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 23:40 GMT
'Vampires' strike Malawi villages
Malawian villagers in a maize field
There are fears that crops are being left untended

Rumours of people being attacked for their blood have swept southern areas of Malawi.

Terrified villagers have left their fields untended, too scared of becoming the next victims of the mysterious blood-suckers.

President Bakili Muluzi has joined other officials in trying to calm fears and has said the rumours are unfounded and a plot to undermine the government.

Map of Malawi showing areas affected by vampire rumours
But residents have been taking the law into their own hands, killing one man thought to be a human vampire and badly injuring three others.

Some people - mainly women and children - have come forward to say they have been victims of the blood-thieves.

One woman showed journalists a mark on her arm where she said a needle was inserted to draw her blood.

The alleged attacks have taken place over the last three weeks in Blantyre as well as the districts of Thyolo, Mulanje and Chiradzulu.

Strangers are becoming victims of vigilantes as villagers are wary of anyone who is not known in their area.

One man was stoned to death after being suspected of working with the vampires.

In Thyolo, villagers attacked three Roman Catholic priests who were strangers to the area.

They were beaten and detained overnight before a woman recognised one of them as a priest.

'Malicious stories'

Police and government officials have visited the areas hit by the stories to try to calm fears.

Mr Muluzi, back from a private visit to Britain, has now joined that campaign.

No government can go about sucking blood of its own people - that's thuggery

President Bakili Muluzi
He said he had been told the rumours had been spread by "malicious and irresponsible" members of the opposition.

He had learnt the stories included claims that his government was colluding with international aid agencies to supply them with human blood in exchange for food aid.

"No government can go about sucking blood of its own people," said the president. "That's thuggery."

He said there would be severe punishment for the unnamed opposition politicians once they were caught.

See also:

26 Nov 02 | Health
22 Oct 02 | Africa
22 Aug 02 | Africa
29 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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