Swaziland: Security forces tear-gas students

AP News
Posted: Sep 07, 2011 12:48 PM
Swaziland: Security forces tear-gas students

Security forces and protesters clashed in two towns Wednesday during a week of planned protests demanding an end to Swaziland's absolute monarchy.

About 1,000 university students started pelting stones at security forces, who reacted by firing tear gas and beating demonstrators around the head in Mbabane, capital of the southern African mountain kingdom.

In eastern Siteke town, trade union leaders said police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at unarmed and peaceful protesters.

Muzi Mhlanga, general secretary of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, said the trouble started when police prevented visiting leaders of the Congress of South African Trade Unions from addressing hundreds of people at a demonstration.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, known as COSATU, said Swazi union leaders were beaten up and South African ones are being deported.

Swaziland is in a financial crisis fueled by corruption and declining customs revenue that has led to widespread shortages of medication.

The government is freezing civil servant salaries and cutting other costs including student allowances.

Protesting Swazis say the king should instead slash his lavish lifestyle and that of his 13 wives and all their offspring.

King Mswati III has ruled the nation of about 1.2 million since 1986, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa last month agreed to give Swaziland a 2.4 billion rand ($354 million) loan contingent on economic and political reform. It was roundly criticized.

"The South African government has sent less that 20 million rand to help those starving in the Horn of Africa and yet it is willing to grant a 2.4 billion loan to Swaziland's corrupt regime," complained the South Africa-based Swaziland Democracy Campaign. "This loan will only sustain an unsustainable system and perpetuate the continued oppression and suffering of the people of Swaziland."

Protesters are demanding, among other things, the unbanning of political parties and trade unions, elections to create a democratic multiparty state and a free media.