April 13, 2006

Pro-democracy activists arrested in South Africa

More than 20 pro-democracy activists were arrested by South African police during a protest blockade of the country's border with Swaziland. Rubber bullets were fired and protestors were teargased at one of five border crossing points South Africa shares with its eastern neighbour. According to police spokesman Mtsholi Bhembe, when protestors did not heed repeated warnings against blocking traffic, the police responded with rubber bullets. More than 20 people loaded in two light delivery vehicles were arrested in Matsamo, about 550 km northeast of the South African capital, Tshwane.

At least 500 protestors, led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the Swaziland Solidarity Network (a pro-democracy NGO), the South African Community Party and its youth wing, held demonstrations and tried to close the border. Swaziland, with a population of just over a million, is economically dependent on its giant neighbour.

The protests were called in support of what was described as Swazi's struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights. "The people of Swaziland are living under a state of emergency that bans political parties and outlaws all forms of political activity, including all the rights and freedoms of the people to organise, associate and speak on issues affecting the country and their lives," said COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven.

The protests commemorated King Sobhuza II’s institution of a 33-years-old state of emergency in Swaziland that has “curtailed human rights and political freedoms of the Swazi people”. Swaziland Solidarity Network spokesman Lucky Lukhele pointed out that all political parties were still banned. The network was demanding a democratically elected national constitutional forum and the unbanning of all political parties, Lukhele said.
It also wanted the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the return of exiles and the removal of laws prohibiting free political action and the right to organise. (Sapa /Business Day, South Africa)

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