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Swaziland King's Powers to be Extended - 2001-08-11

In Swaziland, about 10,000 citizens have flocked to a rare national meeting called by the king. They learned that he is likely to increase his already sweeping powers.

King Mswati III called the unusual national gathering to release a long-delayed report by his Constitutional Review Commission.

Leaders of the commission told the crowd that after five years of surveying the population, they have concluded that the nation is happy with the way King Mswati is running the country. They said the Swazi people want the king's powers extended still further.

The 33-year-old king rules by decree and already wields extensive powers in his tiny kingdom. Swaziland is the only absolute monarchy in sub-Saharan Africa.

In brief remarks, King Mswati told the crowd he is pleased that Swazi citizens were able to express their views on the government without violence. He says he will appoint a new committee to implement the constitutional reforms recommended by the review commission.

The crowd in the royal family's traditional home of Ludzidzi was smaller than the king might have liked. Some 250,000 people turned out for his last national meeting several years ago, but only roughly 10,000 came for this one.

The Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions urged its members to boycott the gathering. The trade unionists have spearheaded a push for democratic reforms in Swaziland. Their objections, along with international pressure, forced the king earlier this year to revoke a royal degree that had sought to expand his powers and squash criticism of the monarchy.

Swaziland was a democratic constitutional monarchy when it gained independence from Britain in 1968. But King Mswati's father, King Sobuza II, repealed the constitution in 1973 and banned political parties.

The royal family has ruled the country with little opposition ever since. But there has been growing dissatisfaction with King Mswati's reign in recent years, and growing support for reforming the monarchy and moving Swaziland back toward democracy.