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South Africa | Swaziland
Labour | Politics | Human rights

Swazi pro-democracy activists arrested in SA

Misanet / IRIN, 12 April - More than 20 pro-democracy activists were arrested by South African police on Wednesday during a protest blockade of the country's border with Swaziland. The protests were led by South Africa's trade union COSATU.

Rubber bullets were fired and protestors were teargased at one of five border crossing points South Africa shares with its small eastern neighbour, the authoritarian Kingdom of Swaziland.

According to South African police spokesman Mtsholi Bhembe, when protestors did not heed repeated warnings against blocking traffic, the police responded with rubber bullets. More than 20 people loaded in two light delivery vehicles were arrested in Matsamo, about 550 km northeast of the South African capital, Tshwane (Pretoria).

At least 500 protestors, led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the Swaziland Solidarity Network (a pro-democracy NGO), the South African Community Party and its youth wing, held demonstrations and tried to close the border. Swaziland, with a population of just over a million, is economically dependent on its giant neighbour.

The protests were called in support of what was described as Swazi's struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights. COSATU has been at the front of fighting for democracy in Swaziland after its Swazi unionist comrades were targeted by the regime several years ago.

"The people of Swaziland are living under a state of emergency that bans political parties and outlaws all forms of political activity, including all the rights and freedoms of the people to organise, associate and speak on issues affecting the country and their lives," said COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven.

Political parties are banned in the mountain Kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. The country has a 'Tinkhundla' system of government, where Swazis living under palace-appointed chiefs elect MPs who vote on laws prepared by the king's hand-picked cabinet.

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