Swazi police arrest union leaders in protest crackdown

Swazi police arrested union leaders on Thursday as a crackdown on banned pro-democracy protests intensified, with armed patrols in urban areas to disperse any gatherings in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

The deputy president of the recently banned Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (Tucoswa), Sipho Kunene and deputy general secretary Muzi Mhlanga were arrested in capital Mbabane, union spokesperson Vincent Dlamini said.

“Mhlanga and Kunene were arrested by police in Mbabane whilst waiting for the march to start. Police have instructed marchers to disperse or face the consequences,” he said.

“No gathering of whatsover nature shall be allowed, police say.”

The government on Tuesday obtained a court order blocking the demonstrations to commemorate a ban on political parties and the suspension of the constitution that have allowed the king to rule by decree since 1973.

A “no tolerance” warning was issued against the protests, imposing a ban on walking in groups of three people or more.

Police have been stopping and questioning anyone in a red shirt, the colour associated with trade unions.

Protests have mushroomed in the impoverished kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute mornach.

The king, who turns 44 on April 19, has faced growing criticism and unprecedented public protests over the last year due to a financial crisis that has pushed the kingdom to the brink of bankruptcy while he is accused of lavish spending.

Mswati is rated by Forbes magazine as among the world’s 15 richest monarchs, with a personal fortune of more than $100-million. — AFP

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