BLANTYRE (Reuters) - A bizarre rumor that Malawi's government is colluding with vampires to collect human blood for international aid agencies in exchange for food has led to a rash of vigilante violence.
President Bakili Muluzi accused unnamed opposition politicians on Sunday of spreading the vampire stories to try to undermine his government, already hit by political protests and widespread food shortages.
Vampire paranoia has sparked several attacks on suspected bloodsuckers, despite official efforts to kill the rumor.
Last week a man accused of helping vampires was stoned to death and three Roman Catholic priests were beaten up by villagers who suspected them of being bloodsuckers.
Both attacks happened in the southern tea-growing district of Thyolo.
Muluzi told a news conference on Sunday the vampire stories were malicious and irresponsible. "No government can go about sucking blood of its own people," he said. "That's thuggery."
The rumors have increased political tensions in the country, one of the 10 poorest in the world, where protests have already broken out over Muluzi's efforts to stay in office for another five years.
Muluzi said the rumors were also affecting economic activity in four southern districts as agricultural workers stayed indoors.