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Swazi unions embark on protest strike

Published Jul 28, 2011

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Hundreds of union members took to the streets Thursday in cities and towns around Swaziland to protest government moves to cut civil servants' salaries amid a deepening financial crisis.

Some 400 people joined the protest in Mbabane, the capital, while about 300 marched in Manzini, the country's commercial hub. Protests were also under way in two other towns.

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“These protests are being staged in Mbabane, Manzini, Siteki and Nhlangano, and the intention is to awaken the people of Swaziland and the world of the urgent need to establish democracy in the country,” Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions organiser Fundizwi S'khondze told AFP.

An AFP correspondent said the marches were proceeding peacefully. In Manzini, some 500 armed police stood guard but did not interfere with demonstrators.

Unions won the right to stage the protests late Wednesday after a court overturned a last-minute injunction granted to government to block the two-day strike.

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The court gave the unions permission to strike Thursday and Friday, but labour leaders said they would instead hold a one-day strike and follow it up with new strikes each month until King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, was forced to embrace democratic reforms.

“We will not stop these protests until government resigns,” S'khondze said.

Swaziland is battling to stay solvent after last year losing 60

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percent of its revenues from a regional customs union, the government's main source of income.

As the government has frozen public-sector salaries and asked unions to accept pay cuts, anger has spiked among public-sector workers, leading to mass protests in April that were violently put down by security forces.

Growing public resentment has lent momentum to calls for Mswati to step down.

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The king - whose fortune is estimated at $100 million - is famous for his jet-set lifestyle and lavish spending on his 13

wives, each of whom has her own mansion. - Sapa-AFP

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