Swaziland's spendthrift King takes his 13th wife

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While his tiny country reels under the burdens of mismanagement, food shortages and Africa's worst Aids crisis, the attention of Swaziland's young King Mswati remains focused on his own lavish lifestyle.

While his tiny country reels under the burdens of mismanagement, food shortages and Africa's worst Aids crisis, the attention of Swaziland's young King Mswati remains focused on his own lavish lifestyle.

Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has reportedly chosen a 16-year-old girl to become his 13th wife after an annual ceremony at which thousands of bare-breasted girls were paraded for him to pick a new consort.

The girl, a Miss Teenage Swaziland finalist, is now in seclusion after being taken by Mswati's royal guards. The 36-year-old king caused a furore earlier this year when he announced plans to invest more than £5.6m in building palaces for each of his wives. He was earlier forced to drop plans to spend £28m on a jet for his exclusive use. The deal fell through but the kingdom lost a £2.8m downpayment.

Despite the mass poverty in his country, Mswati's authoritarian rule and extravagance have become legendary in Africa. He can close newspapers at will, and overturn court decisions.

Apart from the annual inxwala reed dance festival, at which bare-breasted girls parade before him, Mswati can send his bodyguards to abduct into the royal household any girl of his choosing at any other time.

That habit plunged his kingdom into chaos last year when a mother took Mswati to court demanding that he return her 18-year-old daughter. But Lindiwe Dlamini lost her battle when her daughter, Zena Mahlangu, opted for the lavish lifestyle of Mswati's royal household over the poverty that afflicts more than 90 per cent of Mswati's 1.2 million subjects.

Critics have accused the king of not setting a good example in a country ravaged by Aids. About 40 per cent of all adults are infected. But he has shown no signs of relenting.

Mswati inherited the country at the age of 18 from his father, King Sobhuza, who died in 1982, aged 83. King Sobhuza officially had about 120 wives but unofficial estimates say the number was even higher.

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