Swaziland bans protests
Swaziland has banned protests planned for next week, Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini said Thursday, warning the public not to join anti-government rallies in Africa's last absolute monarchy.
In a strongly worded statement, he said organisers of the three days of protests planned to start Tuesday did not have permission to march.
"This then renders the protest illegal. We do not therefore expect any individual to participate in any such proposed protest action," he said.
"Government accordingly strongly warns those organising and intending to participate in the protest action to refrain from doing so and continue with their normal day-to-day business," Dlamini said.
He added that businesses would not pay workers who join the protest against the 25-year reign of King Mswati III, who has ruled over Swaziland since he was 18.
Mswati, 42, is accused of bankrupting the state coffers with his lavish lifestyle and 13 wives, who take private jets on posh overseas shopping trips.
Efforts to slash salaries of civil servants sparked the biggest protests seen in years on March 18.
Student and union leaders vowed to go ahead with the new protests, saying that they did not need to seek permission for the marches after winning approval for the demonstration last month.
"It is a continuation of other marches we have had. The law says we do not have to start the application afresh. If this one is illegal then the one on March 18 was illegal too," Muzi Mhlanga, head of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, told AFP.
The protesters next week will demand "that the present government go and that we have a multi-party democratic government," he said.
Swaziland's Concerned Citizens Coalition said Dlamini's "actions can only be seen to be deliberately provocative and contrary to good sense and sensible governance."
Protests are due to start Tuesday, marking the day political parties were banned 38 years ago.
Organisers plan to start protests in the capital Mbabane on Tuesday, with demonstrations planned in Swaziland's other main centres, Manzini and Nhlangano on Wednesday and Thursday.
Security has tightened in the small mountainous kingdom, with soldiers searching cars at the border with South Africa and police staging roadblocks on highways.
Several activists have been arrested as police raided their homes in recent days, according to Maxwell Dlamini, head of the Swaziland National Union of Students which has led the protest calls.
Mcolisi Ngcamphalala, national organiser for the youth wing of the banned opposition People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), told AFP that he was detained Tuesday night and held for 24 hours.
He said police beat him, placed plastic bags over his head, and then interrogated him about calls for national protests on Tuesday.
"They grilled me about the April 12 uprising, and they kicked and beat me," he said shortly after his release.
"Right now they are outside my house. They are intimidating my family," he said. "They threatened me with death."
Police spokeswoman Wendy Hleta said Ngcamphalala had been stopped at a road block and held for possessing "pamphlets of a proscribed entity", but denied that he had been tortured.
"I am denying that because I haven't got any information of his torture. I don't know why he would lie to say he has been tortured when he has not," Hleta told AFP.
"All I have is that he was questioned about the possession of the pamphlets and he was eventually released and the pamphlets were only confiscated."