South African activists blockade Swazi border

South African trade unionists and political activists mounted a protest blockade of the borders with Swaziland Wednesday, saying the continent's last absolute monarchy was repressing its citizens.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network said about 600 people had blocked traffic at one crossing in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, causing a 6-kilometer (4-mile) backup on the main route used by the two countries' sugar industries.

Lucky Lukhele, one of the organizers, said the number of protesters at the four other border crossings was increasing and that they hoped to stop all traffic going to Swaziland. He said there had been no violence, and that police had not so far tried to disperse the demonstrators.

The protests were timed to coincide with the 33rd anniversary of the declaration of a state of emergency by the late King Sobuza II which has "allowed the royals to disregard the human rights and political freedoms of the people," said the Swaziland Solidarity Network.

The demonstrators want Sobuza's son, King Mswati III, to legalize political parties and allow a democratically elected national constitutional forum.

The protests were backed by the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Communist party, which said they wanted to "support the oppressed people and the workers of Swaziland in their struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights."

Swaziland has been has been ruled by royal decree since the declaration of emergency in 1973. Mswati commands widespread loyalty despite criticism of his lavish spending, including fine homes and cars for his 13 wives.

But there are sporadic signs of unrest and frustration in the impoverished, AIDS stricken kingdom, including a spate of fire bombings late last year. Sixteen members of the banned People's United Democratic Movement were arrested in connection with petrol bomb attacks and face charges of high treason and sedition.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has refused to use his country's economic domination of the Swazi economy to pressure Mswati into political reform, saying it is an internal affair for Swaziland, reports the AP.


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