Swazi police out in force ahead of protest

MBABANE, March 18 (Reuters) – Swazi police flooded the streets of the tiny southern African kingdom’s capital on Friday ahead of a protest by unions, civil servants and students calling on the government to resign.

Swaziland is in the grip of a serious financial crisis and civil servants fear they will not be paid this month after Africa’s last absolute monarchy suffered a huge drop in income from the Southern African Customs Union.

Trade unions and opposition parties, which are officially banned, are demanding the government resign. Protesters were inspired by the uprisings in north Africa.

“Government corruption is draining our country,” said Masuko Mario, President of the People’s United Democratic Movement.

“We are here to demand the unbanning of political parties. We have no confidence in the government and want a new interim government to be put in place and for political parties to be unbanned.”

Unemployment in the nation of 1.4 million people is about 40 percent, with 70 percent of the population living below the national poverty line.

In contrast, King Mswati III — who has 14 wives — has a personal fortune of $200 million, according to Forbes magazine.

Hundreds of police officers and special armed units deployed on the streets of Mbabane and roads leading to a park where hundreds of protesters gathered were blocked off.

“We are inspired by the events in the Middle East and North Africa. This regime must be removed,” said Sarah Dlamini, one of the protesters.

http://af.reuters.com/article/southAfricaNews/idAFLDE72H0GV20110318?sp=true

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