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Saturday, October 9, 1999 Published at 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK

World: Africa

Malawi's president weds

Muluzi - entitled to up to four wives

Some 3,000 guests, including four African leaders and a monarch, have attended a wedding feast for Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi and his long-time companion and bride Patricia.

The couple walked along a 600-metre-long red carpet to the reception at the hilltop Sanjika Palace overlooking Blantyre.

The president married Patricia, his second wife, in an Islamic ceremony on Friday.

At Saturday's wedding party, the couple were greeted by Presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, Pierre Buyoya of Burundi and King Mswati III of Swaziland.

Some 400 township residents waited outside the palace gates hoping to see the newly-weds.

The wedding procession was led by some of the five children Patricia has borne President Muluzi since they were first married in a civil ceremony in 1987.

Secret life

A former school teacher, 35-year-old Patricia Fukila lived secretly in a presidential residence near Zomba after President Muluzi took power in 1994.

The president, 56, had been married to his first wife Annie for 30 years and had never publicly acknowledged Patricia as his second wife.

It was only on Friday that she made her first public appearance alongside President Muluzi.

He separated from his first wife in May, but did not divorce her.

As a member of Malawi's 30% Islamic minority, the president is allowed up to four wives under the customary law of his faith.

Public money 'plundered'

Palace guests were treated to a five-course luncheon to celebrate the wedding.

The president had ordered 29 cows to be slaughtered for the feast, and laid on free beer, food and live music in several hotels.

But opposition leaders were reported to have boycotted the event in protest at the high state cost of the wedding, reported to be 15m kwacha ($335,000).

Heatherwick Ntaba, secretary of the Malawi Congress Party and Alliance for Democracy group, said most opposition leaders sent back their wedding invitations to demonstrate against "the plunder of public money".

The head of the wedding committee, Dumiso Mulani, said the president had spent some 5m kwacha of his own money and that the state purse would be spared.

After the party at the palace, the celebrations were set to continue at President Muluzi's home village of Kapoloma, 160 km north of Blantyre.

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