Blantyre - Ethel Mutharika, wife of President Bingu wa Mutharika, will be buried next week, the presidency said on Tuesday, as the country started a month of mourning for the first lady.

Ethel Mutharika, a Zimbabwean national who was married to Malawi's president for 37 years, died in the capital, Lilongwe, on Monday after a long battle with cancer. She was 63.

Her funeral was expected to take place on June 9 at the couple's farm in the southern tea-growing district of Thyolo, where the president is from, Presidential and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Davies Katsonga said in a statement.

After initially not disclosing the cause of death, the president's chief political adviser Hetherwick Ntaba, a physician by profession, said the first lady died of complications from cancer.

"She has been a cancer patient for a long time. It started from the bowels and the cancerous cells were removed successfully, but some cells remained and started spreading," he said. "For the past three years, it grew worse and aggressive, and we eventually lost her on Monday."

Ntaba, who was the official physician for Malawi's founding President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, said Ethel Mutharika was treated in Malawi, South Africa as well as a number of Asian and European countries, including France.

Asked how the president was dealing with her death Ntaba said: "It's very difficult to lose a loved one. He is taking it with extreme difficulty but is slowly accepting it."

Mutharika, 73, led mourners in paying respects to his wife as she lay in state at the New State House in Lilongwe. Her body will then be moved to the northern city of Mzuzu on June 2 and the commercial capital, Blantyre, on June 5.

The couple have four children. - Sapa-AP