Thursday, September 18, 2008



18 September 2008

Police hold Swazi poll protesters

Police in Swaziland have detained a number of pro-democracy activists planning a border blockade ahead of parliamentary elections in the kingdom.

Several union leaders were bundled into police vans at the main border crossing with South Africa, organisers of the planned blockade said.

Political parties are banned in Swaziland, one of the world's last absolute monarchies.

There have been recent protests calling for change and multi-party democracy.

King Mswati III, who has been in power since 1986 and recently celebrated his 40th birthday, hand-picks many of Swaziland's parliamentarians.

Correspondents say the king remains popular with many of his subjects, though opposition has been growing to his lavish lifestyle in a country where most people live in poverty.

Early on Thursday, authorities detained unions leaders and other activists after they arrived at Oshoek, Swaziland's main point of trade with South Africa.

Among those being held was Jan Sithole, the secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions.

The BBC's Thulani Mthewa, who is at the border, said some 200 people - both South African and Swazi - had begun a protest on the South African side of the border, but the demonstration on the Swazi side had been blocked.

South African unionists from the umbrella organisation Cosatu are demonstrating in solidarity with their Swazi counterparts.

Riot police have been deployed on both sides of the border crossing, our reporter says.

Landlocked Swaziland is almost entirely surrounded by South Africa.

Ahead of the planned blockade, Swazi government spokesman Percy Simelane said the protest was unnecessary.

"The issues have been dealt with, the blockade is illegal, Swaziland hasn't done anything to deserve being treated the way it is being treated by our unions and also the unions in South Africa," he told the BBC Network Africa programme.

But the secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Labour, Vincent Ncongwane, said protesters wanted to demonstrate that Friday's elections would not be inclusive.

"We still have in Swaziland this myth that you can have a democracy where there isn't the participation of other political parties," he told the BBC's.


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