Swazi police fire tear gas on teachers for 2nd day

AP News
Posted: Apr 13, 2011 1:02 PM
Swazi police fire tear gas on teachers for 2nd day

Police fired tear gas and water cannons for a second day on Wednesday at teachers poised to march in Swaziland's commercial capital.

Swazi union leaders and pro-democracy activists are divided as to how to proceed with fighting to overthrow Swaziland's monarch _ and if they should, after security forces on Tuesday fired tear gas and water cannons, beat people with batons and arrested activists.

As union leaders met Wednesday to discuss their protest strategy, police burst into their headquarters, where more than 300 teachers were singing liberation songs, chanting and dancing. Police fired tear gas and water cannons, dispersing the crowd. Some teachers hid in nearby bushes.

Wednesday evening more than 50 police stormed a press conference, searched reporters and then told union leaders that protesters could not stay at headquarters overnight. About 150 teachers _ determined to continue the struggle _ had regrouped at headquarters after the tear gas firing and said they would stay through the night. Two armed police vehicles were stationed outside of the headquarters.

Sibongile Mazibuko, president of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, said earlier Wednesday that teachers had called off protests for security reasons, as police had jailed teachers for treason and used batons to beat those gathered at the headquarters on Tuesday. Mazibuko was released after being detained all day Tuesday. She said she had gone into hiding.

Heavy security in the country's usually placid commercial capital ensured that Tuesday's pro-democracy protests did not happen. Activists had planned the protests to mark exactly 38 years since the current Swazi king's father, King Sobhuza II, banned political parties and abandoned the country's constitution.

Government spokeswoman Macanjana Motsa did not immediately return calls for comment.

An anti-democracy movement in Swaziland, spearheaded by the unions, has taken root since the government announced in March its plan to freeze civil service salaries and sell off state-run companies.

The IMF's mission chief for Swaziland, Joannes Mongardini, said the country's budget crisis was exacerbated by an out-of-budget wage increase for civil servants and politicians in April 2010 and a $50 million budget addendum for a new airport project.

Swaziland is sub-Saharan Africa's last standing absolute monarchy, and human rights activists criticize the wealthy king's lavish lifestyle while most Swazis live in poverty. The country is wrought with unemployment and has the world's the highest rate of Aids in the world/ More than a quarter of the population is infected, according to an Oct. 2010 report by USAID, a U.S. agency that assists countries recovering from disasters or engaging in democratic reforms.


Associated Press writer Jenny Gross contributed to this report from Johannesburg.