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SWAZILAND: IRIN Focus on political unrest

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

MBABANE, 9 November (IRIN) - Swaziland will next week reintroduce a dreaded
detention law in a campaign to curb increasing activity by political
dissidents.

The announcement that the 60-day Detention Without Trial Order is to be
reintroduced has reinforced fears of growing heavy-handedness by the
authorities in the tiny kingdom, in which trade union meetings were banned
late last month.

Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini announced late on Wednesday that the
detention order would be effected to counter plans by pro-democracy groups
for a work stoppage and a border blockage later this month. Political lobby
groups led by the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) resolved to
call a nationwide strike on 13 and 14 November unless the government agreed
to repeal a 27 year-old decree banning party politics by Thursday.

The Nelspruit Declaration, drawn up at a meeting in South Africa's
Mpumalanga Province last Sunday, also announced plans by the pro-democracy
Swaziland Democratic Alliance to set up an interim government to replace the
absolute monarchy led by King Mswati III.

The political activists had planned to present the declaration to the prime
minister on Tuesday, but were blocked by security forces. They subsequently
faxed it to the premier's office, but he has refused to recognise it. "It
has become clear that these organisations do not listen to government and
made resolutions that we can not allow to be implemented here," the 'Times
of Swaziland' quoted Dlamini as saying on Thursday.

The Swazi government banned trade union meetings in the tiny kingdom last
month following a spate of worker and student demonstrations against
perceived excesses by the establishment. Earlier, it closed the University
of Swaziland to forestall anti-government demonstrations by students.

Meanwhile, the traditional authorities have targeted journalists they
perceive as threatening the kingdom's human rights image. Police responded
by ordering South African journalists, in Swaziland to cover a planned march
to the prime minister office by workers on Tuesday, to leave the country.

However, reporters from South Africa's weekly 'Mail and Guardian' and the
African Eye News Service have defied the order and were still in the country
on Thursday. "We are operating within the law and the order for us to leave
is not based on the law. The actions were merely meant to intimidate us,"
African Eye editor Justin Arenstein told IRIN.

The watchdog Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), meanwhile, said it
would alert the international community of the government's increasing
intolerance of free expression. "We are very shocked, angry and frustrated.
The time when journalists were pushed around like this is long gone," MISA
national administrator Comfort Mabuza said. "We are likely to see more and
more groups meeting outside the country to express themselves if the
government continues to restrict the freedoms of expression and assembly."

Leading South African political lobby groups, including the ruling African
National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
have pledged to support calls for political reform in the tiny kingdom.

Swaziland has been ruled by royal decree since 1973 when the former king,
Sobhuza II, repealed the constitution inherited from Britain at independence
in 1968. Demands for political reform in the kingdom intensified in the
mid-90s as other countries in the region transformed into multi-party
democracies. King Mswati III responded to the demands for reform by
appointing a commission to design a new constitution - if it deemed that to
be the popular will.

The commission presented a report of findings and recommendations to the
king last week. While the contents of the report have not yet been made
public, pro-democracy groups have rejected it in advance as being partial to
the monarchy. The constitutional review commission was led by a senior
member of the royal household and banned the media from covering submissions
members of the public made to it. "The commission was just a fattening
ranch, an institution created to keep the monarchy's blue-eyed boys in
employment," SFTU secretary general Jan Sithole said.



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