Swazi government in court bid to stop protests

4th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Swaziland government has sought a court injunction to block a week of planned pro-democracy protests in the southern African kingdom where political parties are banned.

Unions said the demonstrations would go ahead across the country as part of a "Global Week of Action for Swaziland," stepping up pressure for democratic reform on King Mswati III.

Trade Unions, the only organisations legally allowed to hold demonstrations, said the government launched a last minute injunction at the Industrial Court on Saturday.

The court ruled that the unions had to remove certain grievances from their list of demands, including a call to scrap generous perks for politicians. However, the unions said they would go ahead with the protests.

"This time around we are not stopping. Once we hit the streets nobody is going to stop us from saying what we want to say," Barnes Dlamini, head of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions told AFP.

The protests comes as South Africa is poised to sign a controversial $343 million (237 million euro) bailout to help ease a crippling financial crisis in the kingdom.

Political parties have been banned since 1973 in Swaziland and Mswati holds ultimate executive, legislative and judicial power.

The king, reportedly one of the world's richest monarchs, is often blamed for Swaziland's economic woes, spending money on luxury cars and palaces for his 13 wives.

The demonstrations are being organised by a coalition of pro-democracy movements, known as the Swaziland Democracy Campaign.

Police detained 50 activists on the eve of a similar event last year, driving supporters from South Africa back across the border.

The heavy-handed behaviour of Mswati's security forces came under the spotlight again in April when police used batons and water cannons to disperse pro-democracy protesters.

They adopted a largely hands-off approach recently to a series of street demonstrations by public servants sparked by job loss and pay cut fears but the latest planned protests have the potential to attract far greater numbers.

Thousands of disgruntled students from the national university are expected to join the fray after learning their state subsidies had been cut.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) said: "The Swazi regime is paralysed by its own incompetence and inability to break from its corruptive and dictatorial practices."

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last week slammed the government for its fiscal reform programme -- the Fund's third negative assessment in a year -- effectively dashing Mswati III's hopes of accessing international loans.

The IMF sharply criticised Swaziland's public wage bill, one of the continent's highest at 51 percent of recurrent spending in the government's annual budget.

Protests are planned for the capital Mbabane, as well as rural areas of Siteki in the east and Nhlangano in the south, union sources said.

Rallies are also being held abroad, notably in South Africa outside the central bank, and in London outside the Swaziland embassy on Monday, the anniversary of the country's independence in 1968.

© 2011 AFP

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