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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March, 2005, 09:24 GMT
Malawi 'haunted palace' arrests
Raphael Tenthani
Mr Tenthani has reported for the BBC for six years
Two Malawian journalists and a civil servant have been arrested over reports that President Bingu wa Mutharika moved out of his residence because of ghosts.

The journalists, including BBC reporter Raphael Tenthani, have been charged with publishing false news likely to cause public alarm and fear.

Mr Mutharika angrily denied the reports and suggested they were part of a feud with his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi.

On Tuesday, 25 journalists staged a protest to support their colleagues.

They delivered food to Mr Tenthani, Reuters reporter Mabvuto Banda and the personal assistant to the vice president, Horace Nyaka. Mr Tenthani, who also writes for the AP news agency, says he is standing by his story.

Ghostly rodents

The president's advisor on Christian affairs back-tracked on his part in the reports.

Reverend Malani Mtonga is denying telling several journalists that Christian priests had been called to exorcise the "evil spirits".

The fear or alarm that the police are talking about is not there
Lowani Mgonga
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Earlier, another aide who did not want to be named, had told our reporter: "Sometimes the president feels rodents crawling all over his body but when lights are turned on he sees nothing."

But Mr Mutharika dismissed the suggestion.

"I have not met any ghosts yet, I have never in my life been afraid of them," he told journalists on his return from a trip to Belgium.

He also said that allies of Mr Muluzi might be behind the reports.

Mr Muluzi hand-picked Mr Mutharika to succeed him as leader of the ruling UDF party and he won elections last year but the two fell out when Mr Mutharika launched a fight against corruption.

Lowani Mgonga, Malawi director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa), told the BBC News website that the government was using the law to "silence the media".

"The fear or alarm that the police are talking about is not there," he said.

'Obscene opulence'

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

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

New State House
Mr Mutharika evicted parliament from New State House
The president justified his decision to evict parliament by arguing that the New State House had originally been built as a presidential residence.

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, Blantyre.

Profile: Bingu wa Mutharika
23 May 04 |  Africa

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