Swazi police block pre-election protests

Swaziland police have stopped dozens of demonstrators trying to blockade border posts in protest against elections on Friday in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

An Agence France-Presse journalist, travelling to the Oshoek border post with South Africa, saw a 65-seater bus pulled over and ordered to return to northern Swaziland on Thursday.

Unions and banned political parties planned to blockade major border posts ahead of parliamentary elections which they have called “a sham”.

More than 200 people were stopped from going to border posts, including a number of leaders of organisations, said Lucky Lukhele of the Swaziland Solidarity Network, a South African body.

“What the police are doing is arresting them and dumping them in remote areas,” Lukhele said.

About 200 people held a protest on the South African side of the Oshoek border crossing, carrying banners and placards and dressed in red T-shirts. One placard read: “Mswati stop abusing culture for your personal and sexual needs.”

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III, who ascended the throne at age 18 and keeps a strong traditional grip on power, with responsibility for appointing the prime minister, legislature and judiciary.

His country is one of Africa’s poorest, with one of the world’s highest HIV rates, and some have blamed the king’s state-sponsored extravagant lifestyle for draining Swaziland’s finances.

Friday’s poll is the first to take place under a rewritten Constitution, put into effect in 2006, which allows for freedom of association. However, candidates can only stand for elections as individuals, not as part of political parties.—Sapa-AFP

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