Thursday, September 18, 2008


Independent on Line, South Africa

18 September 2008

Swazi union leaders detained

September 18 2008 at 11:55AM

By Charles Matsebula

Mbabane - Police in Swaziland, one of the world's last absolute monarchies, detained several union leaders on Thursday and blocked others from a pre-election protest to demand democratic reform, one of the union leaders said.

Swazi authorities had said the protest could cause anarchy in the southern African kingdom the day before a parliamentary election.

Armed police pulled labour activists from buses and cars at a roadblock en route to a border crossing with South Africa, taking union leaders into vans and sending others back to the capital Mbabane, the union leader said.

"We are at Piggs Peak prison inside the back of a van and don't know why," Jan Sithole, the general secretary of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, said by telephone, after he was stopped and taken away with other union leaders.

"This is detention without trial and execution of an unlawful order," he said.

There was no immediate comment from police.

The unions, backed by South Africa's powerful Cosatu labour federation, had vowed to block traffic at the border, a commercial artery between the two nations.

King Mswati III rules the country of 1,1-million people with a free hand, choosing the country's prime minister and cabinet from those elected to parliament. Political parties have been banned in the country since 1973.

Although the monarch remains popular among many of his subjects, there is rising discontent about his extravagant lifestyle, refusal to adopt democratic reforms and to tackle social problems, including one of Africa's worst AIDS epidemics.

Swaziland's economy grew by about 3,5-percent in 2007 but has been buffeted in recent months by higher prices for fuel and food and a slowdown in South Africa, its main trading partner.

There are fears that unemployment and poverty could rise as a result of the economic difficulties. About 40 percent of Swazi workers are unemployed.

Frustrations boiled over into rare violent protests earlier this month when demonstrators stoned shops, looted a market and set off an explosion that damaged a bus.

Mswati, listed as the world's 15th richest monarch by Forbes magazine, is not seen loosening his grip soon.


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