Opposition leader arrested in crackdown by Swazi King

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The Independent Online

The King of Swaziland is launching an attack on democracy, campaigners in the tiny South African country said yesterday after an opposition leader was arrested and the government said it would detain people without trial.

The King of Swaziland is launching an attack on democracy, campaigners in the tiny South African country said yesterday after an opposition leader was arrested and the government said it would detain people without trial.

Mario Masuku, president of the Peoples' United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), was arrested at the office of the banned party in the capital, Mbabane. His supporters said they hoped he would be charged with sedition and bailed by today.

But, ahead of a two-day stayaway next week, planned by PUDEMO and several trade unions, they said authorities could apply "Makhundu", an order introduced by the prime minister on Wednesday which allows for 60 days' detention without charge or trial.

"We are afraid they want to keep him inside during the stayaway," said Zodwa Mkhonta, vice-president of PUDEMO. "Though the charge of sedition carries a prison maximum of 20 years, it would be better for Mario to be charged. Then we could think about bail and a real court case, rather than 60 days of uncertainty."

Mr Masuku is said to have made seditious comments against King Mswati III when he was among a small group of people which tried to deliver a protest letter on Tuesday to the prime minister, calling for the legalisation of political activity and for the end of a state of emergency begun 27 years ago.

The protest letter, known as the "Nelspruit Declaration" was drawn up last weekend by teachers, students and trade unionists who drove 200 kilometres to Nelspruit, South Africa, so they could hold a public meeting legally. The 800 Swazis at the meeting agreed to give the government until Thursday to respond, or they would lobby for stayaways on Monday and Tuesday of next week and a border blockade on 29 and 30 November.

Swaziland, a member of the Commonwealth and the size of Wales, with a population of one million, produces timber and sugar and depends almost entirely on imports. It is land-locked by South Africa and borders on Mozambique. It has been ruled by King Mswati's Dlamini family for 250 years.

The king 32 and Sherborne-educated, has come under increasing attack after his troops raided two traditional areas, eMacetjeni and kaMkhweli, and forcibly moved 200 peasants.

It is understood the raids were made to accommodate the King's brother, Prince Maguga, who said the chiefs controlling the areas were a threat to the Dlaminis.

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