Anti-monarchy protests in African kingdom eSwatini turn violent

Anti-monarchy protests in African kingdom eSwatini turn violent
Swaziland's King Mswati III addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Demonstrators in the small southern African kingdom of eSwatini took to the streets overnight to demand reforms to its system of absolute monarchy, local media reported on Tuesday, some of them burning cars and shops.

Government spokesman Sabelo Dlamini denied some media reports that King Mswati III had fled the violence to neighbouring South Africa.

Anger against Mswati has been building for years, and protests occasionally turn violent, with police using tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons to disperse stone-throwing protesters.

Campaigners say the king has consistently evaded calls for meaningful reforms that would nudge eSwatini in the direction of democracy. They also accuse him of using public coffers as piggy bank, funding a lavish lifestyle off the backs of his 1.5 million subjects, most of them subsistence farmers.

The 53-year-old king denies being an autocrat, and is impenitent about the lifestyle enjoyed by him and his fifteen wives, who between them occupy several state-funded palaces.

A spate of crackdowns, such as the arrest of opposition leaders and activists in 2019, has done little to discourage anti-monarchy sentiment in the former British protectorate.

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