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Swazi dissidents call for culture, sports boycott

Opponents of Swaziland’s monarchy called Saturday for an international culture and sports boycott on the small southern African kingdom.

The country’s King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in Africa, is facing mounting pressure for reform amid a budget crisis that has forced huge spending cuts and sparked anti-government protests that were violently put down by security forces.

“Concerned human beings must bar Swaziland from cultural and sporting activities,” the Swaziland Solidarity Network, a dissident group based in neighbouring South Africa, said in a statement.

“There cannot be any festivals and dancing in the country while the country’s authorities hold Swazi children in their jails under trumped up charges just so they can frustrate their political ambitions. Human rights abuses and political repression are getting worse in Swaziland.”

The call came three weeks before Swaziland hosts the Bushfire Festival, a three-day music and arts showcase that was expected to feature international acts including the Yale Concert Band from the US, D’bi Young from Canada, Habib Koite from Mali and Goldfish from South Africa.

US rapper Jadakiss last month gave a concert to a near-empty music hall in the Swazi city of Manzini after opponents of Mswati called for a boycott of the show, which they said was linked to the royal family.

Several South African acts pulled out of the concert after the boycott call.

Mswati, whose fortune is estimated at $100 million by Forbes magazine, has ruled tiny Swaziland for 18 years.

The jet-set lifestyle of the 43-year-old king and his 13 wives has become increasingly controversial in the tiny kingdom, where nearly 70 percent of people live on less than a dollar a day.

Discontent over government moves to slash civil servants’ salaries in the face of a crippling budget crisis erupted into street protests on April 13, with police detaining, beating and tear-gassing demonstrators.