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S.Africa’s ruling party calls for reforms in Swaziland

South Africa’s ruling party Thursday called for democratic reforms in Swaziland, including lifting a 38-year ban on political parties, after police violently broke up anti-government protests.

“The use of security forces to quell any form of political dissent and failure to address legitimate concerns of citizens, can only lead to the worsening of relations between government and civilians,” the African National Congress said in a statement.

The party called for “unbanning opposition political parties, releasing political activists and engaging in a meaningful dialogue with opposition political and trade union leaders”.

South Africa rarely criticises its tiny and impoverished neighbour, which was an important ally in the struggle against white-minority apartheid rule.

Top ANC leaders, including South African President Jacob Zuma, used Swaziland as a base of operations when their party was banned under apartheid.

But since the first all-race elections in 1994, Swaziland’s absolute monarchy has slowly grown into a political headache for the ANC as the party’s powerful trade union allies have vocally taken up the cause of Swazi democracy.

Swaziland’s economy depends entirely on its larger neighbour, which funds most of the kingdom’s budget through lavish payments from a regional customs scheme.

South African unions have condemned the Swazi crackdown on protests by teachers and students on Tuesday and Wednesday, when riot police used tear gas, water cannons and batons to break up the demonstrators.