November 12, 2003

Union officials arrested after violent wage protests

wo leaders of the Lesotho's Factory Workers Union (Fawu) were arrested following a strike that left two dead and scores of people injured. Police reportedly arrested Willie Matheo, Fawu's deputy secretary-general, as well as the secretary-general, Billy Macaefa, in the capital Maseru. They are expected to face charges of causing public disorder and damage to property.

Thousands of workers marched to the offices of the Employers' Association of Lesotho early on Monday to hand over a petition protesting a 5.5 % wage increase offered by textile factories. Police have alleged that the protest turned violent, prompting the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. In the confrontation a women was trampled to death. Another man reportedly died later in hospital from wounds incurred during the scuffles. According to the hospital doctor Mpolai Moteetee, there were 112 casualties taken to the hospital, of which 95 were women and 17 men and of which 106 were treated as outpatients.

As the Union has put it, the police had failed to issue a warning to its supporters before opening fire on the crowd. "There is no basis to the police claims, and we promise to sue the police services for their unjustified actions," a Union speaker has announced. (IRIN / Mopheme (The Survivor), Maseru)

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