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eSwatini streets deserted as anti-monarchy riots turn deadly: activists

Eswatini has been rocked by pro-democracy protests which have steadily intensfied since Monday. Picture: Swazi News

Eswatini has been rocked by pro-democracy protests which have steadily intensfied since Monday. Picture: Swazi News

Published Jul 1, 2021


Mbabane, eSwatini - The streets in eSwatini were deserted Wednesday and pro-democracy activists claimed eight people had been killed in clashes with police in the latest clashes in Africa's last absolute monarchy.

Demonstrations, which had been relatively low key for weeks, escalated on Monday in the tiny and usually stable landlocked kingdom previously known as Swaziland.

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Protesters took to the streets in the kingdom's two largest cities, Mbabane and Manzini, to demand political reform.

Police refused to confirm reports of the deaths and injuries, saying they do not divulge such information to international media.

The government, which has deployed soldiers as angry crowds blocked traffic and looted shops, imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew - citing rising coronavirus cases.

But witnesses said violent clashes were continuing between protesters and police.

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Lucky Lukhele, spokesman for the pro-democracy Swaziland Solidarity Network, said eight activists had been shot dead overnight in Manzini.

Lukhele said they were among around 28 protesters who had been shot, some of whom were taken to hospitals in the early hours of the morning.

Internet access has been limited since Tuesday, he added, accusing the government of a shutdown.

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Wandile Dludlu, secretary general of the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), said shops were closed and towns were "run by soldiers" on Wednesday.

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"Between yesterday and today we have got fresh reports of almost 18 people who have been shot," he told AFP.

US calls for restraint

Burning tyres barricaded the streets Wednesday afternoon, with the sound of gunshots heard sporadically on the deserted streets of Mbabane, according to an AFP correspondent on the ground.

"We slept with the sound of gunshots and woke still to gunshots fired," said Mbongwa Dlamini, head of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.

"The looting and destruction of property became intense," he added.

A brewery partially owned by King Mswati III was also torched, Dlamini said.

In neighbouring South Africa, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) issued an "urgent call" for eSwatini authorities to move "away from autocracy, strong handed crisis management and brutal repression of legitimate civilian concerns".

US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter called on the authorities there to "exercise restraint".

"The United States urges all stakeholders in this situation to not only remain calm but also remain peaceful," she added.

ESwatini has long stifled dissent and pro-democracy movements, with political parties banned since 1973, in the southern African country, where the king names government ministers and controls the parliament.

But simmering frustration boiled over this month into sporadic demonstrations that prompted the government to forbid all protests last week -- a move that only served to stoke further anger.

The ANC called for opposition political parties to be authorised and political activists to be released.