Swazi king crushes political opponents

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The Independent Online

King Mswati III, the ruler of Swaziland, has outraged his critics by arresting and jailing dozens of political activists, accusing them of destabilising his regime.

King Mswati's government claims the arrests are linked to petrol bombings during protests last year against the Swazi dictatorship. Critics said the arrests were aimed at crushing dissent in Africa's last absolute monarchy.

More than 20 opponents of the monarchy have been arrested and charged with high treason. If found guilty, they will be sentenced to death. All the detainees are civic society activists and members of the banned opposition party Pudemo, their lawyer Leo Gama said yesterday.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), a coalition partner in South African President Thabo Mbeki's ruling alliance, has criticised the arrests in Swaziland andurged African leaders to introduce sanctions to pressure King Mswati into introducing political reforms.

Cosatu said the New Partnership for Economic Development, a project initiated by the African Union to promote good governance in exchange for economic aid from the West, would never be taken seriously unless African governments took measures against dictators such as the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, and King Mswati.

There was no comment from the South African government, which has been challenged to take the lead in confronting King Mswati. Swaziland's economy is entirely dependent on its neighbour.

King Mswati, 33, has become notorious for his lavish spending habits in a country where a third of the 1.2 million population live in chronic poverty. In 2003 he provoked outrage by attempting to use international donations to buy a jet.