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Madonna's adoption ruling delayed until Friday

LILONGWE, Malawi - Madonna and her three children toured a day care center built by her charity Monday as critics slammed the star's attempt to adopt a second child from thispoor African nation and a judge delayed a ruling in the case until Friday.

Some child advocacy groups say the 50-year-old pop star's plans to adopt a young Malawian girl have been fast-tracked because of Madonna'smoney and status. One accused her of acting like a rich "bully." After spending about an hour in court Monday, Madonna swapped her high heelsand formal skirt for camouflage trousers and big black boots for an outing into the hot, lush Malawian countryside.

Holding the hand of 3-year-old David, whose adoption from Malawi was finalized last year, the singer walked around the compound of theMphandula child care center, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the capital.

Madonna also was accompanied by her 12-year-old daughter Lourdes and 8-year-old son Rocco -- who sported a mohawk haircut for his first visitto Malawi.

See photos of Madonna and her kids Lourdes and David in Malawi

The center, which provides primary schooling and other child care to about 4,000 children, boasts neatly cut lawn, swings and slides, and freshlypainted classrooms.

This was the first time the star had seen the day care center completed. On her last visit in 2007, construction had just started. Asked by reportershow she liked the progress made, Madonna gave a thumbs up.

In one room, Madonna tried her hand at basket-weaving under the watchful eye of a few local woman. David was given a cow-skin guitar as agift, and he pretended to strum the strings.

Meanwhile, a coalition of non-governmental organizations held a press conference in the capital, Lilongwe, criticizing the pop star's latest adoptionapplication.

"We feel Madonna is behaving like a bully," said Undule Mwakusungula, chairman of the Human Rights Consultative Committee. "She has the money and the status to use her profile to manipulate, to fast-track the process."

Madonna's spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg in New York did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.

The girl Madonna is hoping to adopt is about 4 years old, according to a Malawian welfare official and another person involved in the proceedingswho both confirmed an adoption application was under way. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is considered sensitive.

Monday's court roll listed only the child's name -- Chifundo James, which means "Mercy" in a local language. Her uncle, John Ngalande, has saidshe was turning 4 soon.

The girl's 18-year-old mother was unmarried and died soon after she was born, the uncle said. Her father is believed to be alive but has littlecontact with his daughter, he said.

The coalition's Mwakusungula told reporters that adoption should be the last resort and that children need to be taken care of by their own family.

"Mercy James is a child who has her extended close family members alive and we urge Madonna to assist the child from right here," a statementfrom the coalition said.

Mabvuto Bamusi, the coalition's national co-ordinator, said they were asking the court to uphold the country's laws and to "fully" assessMadonna's second adoption bid.

"Celebrities adopting children are merely taking advantages of weaknesses in our country," he said.

Malawian law is fuzzy on foreign adoptions. Regulations stipulate only that prospective parents undergo an 18- to 24-month assessment period inMalawi, a rule bent when Madonna was allowed to take David to London.

David's adoption was a trying process for the singer, who has said the storm of criticism hurt.

The boy's mother died when he was a month old. His father has said he believed he could not care for David alone, and that placing the boy in anorphanage was the best way to ensure his survival.

Earlier Monday, David spent 2 1/2 hours with his biological father at an exclusive lodge where the pop star is staying.

"I was very happy to see him," the father, Yohane Banda, told The Associated Press, adding that David did not recognize him. "He asked me whoI was."

Standing outside the courthouse with a number of other curious onlookers, E. Ngulinga said he understood the criticism directed at the popstar but that it was hard to deny a child the kind of opportunities offered by Madonna.

"That baby is going to have the advantages of going to school and of becoming someone," he said. "Here it is very difficult." Ngulinga said hehoped the girl and David would return when they were older to help Malawi, an impoverished country where 14 percent of adults are infected withthe virus that causes AIDS. The U.N. estimates that half of the 1 million Malawian children who have lost one or both parents have been orphaned by AIDS.

Madonna first traveled to Malawi in 2006 while filming a documentary on the devastating poverty and AIDS crisis. Her Raising Malawiorganization, founded in 2006, raises funds to provide food, shelter, education and health care for children.

- Click here to see photos of Madonna and her kids Lourdes and David in Malawi


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