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Protesters Begin Blockade of Swaziland Borders - 2003-08-13


Labor and political organizations from Swaziland and South Africa have begun a four-day blockade of Swaziland's borders to demand constitutional reform and increased democracy. The protests were timed to coincide with a major international meeting in Swaziland.

The blockade is preventing the movement of trade goods, including agricultural and fuel products, across the border between South Africa and Swaziland. Members of the Congress of South African Trade unions have formed human cordons across the roads leading to the border posts, and have persuaded some truckers not to deliver goods to Swaziland until Friday.

Meanwhile, police broke up a demonstration by about 2,000 Swazis in the capital Mbabane. They prevented the protesters from demonstrating outside a meeting of about 15 leaders from Commonwealth countries who have gathered to discuss sustainable development under the banner of what is called the Global Smart Partnership.

The protests have been called to demand constitutional reform, including a return to multi-party democracy, which was revoked by former King Sobhuza II in 1973.

The current king, Mswati III, who ascended the throne in 1986 is the last absolute monarch on the African continent. Observers say that his rule has become increasingly authoritarian and arbitrary.

Last year he defied orders of the High Court and he has dismissed democracy as "unsuitable" for Swaziland. The king has also said he does not agree with clauses in a draft constitution that would guarantee human rights and freedoms.

King Mswati also angered civil rights groups by purchasing a personal jet. Eighty percent of of his country's 1.1 million people struggle to earn a living from subsistence farming and the revenue of family members who work in South Africa.

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