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Swaziland activists charged with petrol bombings

Nine democracy activists were remanded in custody in Swaziland on Tuesday after brief court appearances in connection with a spate of petrol bombings in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

Police spokesperson Vusie Masuku said the nine — all members of the banned People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) — were rounded up over the weekend.

They are accused of bombing two courthouses and the homes of three police officers, a lawmaker and a government spokesperson since September.

They appeared in two magistrate’s courts in the capital, Mbabane, and in Siteki, eastern Swaziland, on charges including attempted murder, malicious damage to property and possession of substances used in the making of petrol bombs.

The attacks, which have occurred sporadically since 1998, come at a time of mounting frustration in the impoverished, HIV/Aids-ridden kingdom of one million, which is surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique.

Swaziland has been ruled by royal decree since 1973, when King Sobhuza II banned political parties.

A new Constitution that comes into effect in January strengthens human rights protections, but entrenches the power of Sobhuza’s son, King Mswati III.

Pudemo denied any involvement in the recent attacks, but said they are a sign of frustration over the government’s refusal to hold a referendum on the new Constitution.

Pudemo secretary general Bongikosi Dlamini said the arrests will not deter activists from struggling for multiparty democracy in Swaziland and warned, in a statement issued on Tuesday, that there will be more explosions.

Earlier this month, police claimed to have discovered a petrol-bomb-making factory at a homestead belonging to a Pudemo member in Nkwalini, outside Mbabane.

Their evidence was a plastic bottle containing sand and water found on top of a pile of sand. — Sapa

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