eSwatini govt calls for calm, insists the king hasn't fled

In a short statement released on Tuesday, the acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku said King Mswati III continued to lead his county.

FILE: King Mswati III, head of state of eSwatini. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - The government of eSwatini is on Tuesday calling for calm and peace amid escalating pro-democracy protests leading to violence on the streets.

Violent clashes between police, the army and protesters have erupted on the streets of the kingdom as protesters escalate their demonstration demanding democracy and economic freedom.

The government is also denying that King Mswati III has fled the kingdom, insisting he is still in eSwatini doing his work.

However, it hasn't provided any evidence to refute reports that he's hiding out in Johannesburg.

In a short statement released on Tuesday, the acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku said the king continued to lead his county.

However, the Swaziland Solidarity Network's Lucky Lukhele told a different story. He has called on South Africa to step in and help restore calm in the kingdom.

“Our call is to South Africa in particular and Mozambique. These are the immediate neighbours of Swaziland, anything that happen in Swaziland, it will be seen as their failure. So, the sooner they move in and quell the situation and also tell King Mswati sit down with the citizen of Swaziland, the better,” he said.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network said at least one person had been confirmed dead in the unrest gripping eSwatini, but it’s not yet clear if the victim was a pro-democracy protester or a bystander.

Lukhele said the army was deployed during the unrest on Monday night and many protesters had been hurt and even tortured.

Meanwhile, Masuku is expected to hold a briefing soon. The protests were sparked by a decree issued by Masuku banning the handover of petitions to government officials and MPs.

WITNESS ACCOUNTS

Witnesses in the capital Manzini and Mbabane reported seeing soldiers patrolling the streets where protesters have been burning tyres and stoning cars.

A Manzini resident told AFP she and colleagues were holed up in the restaurant where they worked and were unable to return home.

"Helicopters are extinguishing the fires lit on the roads," she said, asking not be named.

People had been looting a furniture store and on Monday some shops were burned down, she said.

Shops were ransacked and torched overnight in Matsapha, an industrial hub on the western edge of Manzini, according to several sources.

"The military is on the streets," Lukhele told AFP.

"Yesterday was the worst night ever, where a young man was shot point-blank by the army, and some are in hospital as we speak," Lukhele charged.

Wandile Dludlu, secretary general of People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), said "(King) Mswati unleashed armed soldiers and police on unarmed civilians yesterday."

More than 250 protesters have been injured with gun wounds, broken bones and shock, he said.

The government last week banned protests, with national police commissioner William Dlamini warning that officers would be "zero-tolerant" of breaches of the ban.

The kingdom has traditionally stifled dissent and demonstrations, including by pro-democracy trade unions.

With unrestricted political power over his 1.3 million people and ruling by decree, the king is the only absolute monarch in Africa and one of the few remaining in the world.

Crowned in 1986 when he was just 18, the king has come under fire for his expensive tastes and spending while most inhabitants live below the poverty line.

In 2019, the country was rocked by a series of strikes by civil servants who accused the monarch of draining public coffers at the expense of his subjects.

Additional reporting by AFP.

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