Maseru - Thousands of people, including Nelson Mandela, celebrated the first royal wedding of the new millennium on Friday as Lesotho's King Letsie III married South African Karabo Motsoeneng.

King Letsie, 35, and Motsoeneng, 23, took their vows at a packed football stadium in the capital, Maseru.

Motsoeneng wore a white wedding gown with a long train. The king was dressed in a suit for the Catholic service.

The British-educated king said Motsoeneng would be his only wife, going against the grain in an area where polygamy is relatively common.

After the hour-long ceremony, the king and his bride left for a luncheon amid deafening cheers, singing and ululating from the colourful crowd, some of whom were wrapped in blankets and wearing traditional domed woven grass hats.

The couple will host an evening banquet for their guests, which include Swaziland's King Mswati III and Namibian President Sam Nujoma.

Motsoeneng was studying for a bachelor of science degree at a South African university when she met the king three years ago.

The constitutional monarch took the throne in the early 1990s, when he ousted the democratically elected government to allow for the reinstatement of his father, King Moeshoeshoe, who was exiled in a coup.

After his father was killed in a car crash, he returned to the throne in October 1996.

Lesotho is a mountainous country of two million people, surrounded on all sides by South Africa, on which the tiny kingdom is heavily reliant for imports, exports and jobs.

South Africa and Botswana sent thousands of troops into Lesotho in September 1998 to quell an army mutiny and rising civil unrest over disputed election results.

Mobs protesting the incursion gutted Maseru, looting and burning most of the central business district and putting thousands of people out of work in the impoverished kingdom.

Lesotho is expected to hold fresh elections this year after a new electoral model was agreed on by the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy and opposition parties. - Reuters