Unionist charged, Botswana strike drags on

GABORONE, Botswana (AP) — A Botswana union leader said Friday that his arrest on assault charges is part of government attempts to end a monthlong civil service strike.

Pelotshweu Baeng, former president of the Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union, was released on 200 pula ($30) bail on Friday. Baeng, who still works for the union, was arrested Wednesday on charges stemming from a scuffle at a gathering of striking workers. He denies the charges.

As he emerged from a magistrate court in the capital, Baeng told supporters: “The issue of the detention should be seen as part of the struggle of workers in this country.

“The detention and many more to come will serve as a source of inspiration because our country is falling into economic and democratic collapse,” he said.

Government spokesman Jeff Ramsay says allegations union leaders are being detained as a tactic to break the strike are “nonsensical.”

Moeti Mohwasa, spokesman for the opposition Botswana National Front, called Baeng’s arrest part of a crackdown on striking workers, and said another official of Baeng’s union was briefly detained last week on charges of inciting violence.

Civil servants, whose last raise was in 2008, initially demanded a 16 percent increase, but have dropped that to 12 percent. The government, with income from crucial diamond exports slowed by the global recession, initially offered 5 percent, but now is offering 3 percent.

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