Swaziland gov’t beefs up security ahead of protest

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – An activist said Thursday that Swazi ministers have used money from their self-imposed salary cuts to pay for 500 recently hired security officials, further beefing up forces ahead of a planned April 12 pro-democracy uprising.

The government is passing out guns to the tiny mountain kingdom’s army, one of the largest in the region, instead of using the money to provide public services, said Mandla Hlatshwayo, founder of the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organizations.

The government has stepped up its security presence since a March 18 protest for democracy brought 7,000 protesters to the usually quiet capital of Mbabane, said Thuli Makama, director of the Swaziland Legal Assistance Center.

The current police presence is unlike anything the country has seen, with frequent checkpoints and roadblocks, she said at a news conference in Johannesburg.

“The king is determined in making sure armed forces are comfortable and thus ready to serve him,” Makama said. “One would think he’s ready to quash any uprising. If space is not open for people to participate in the government, I can see the whole thing imploding.”

Swazi government spokeswoman Macanjana Motsa did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

An anti-monarchy movement has gained momentum since the government, embroiled in a budget crisis, proposed freezing civil service wages which prompted the protest in March.


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