|Two Swazi activists charged|
|Monday, 18 April 2011 20:40|
Two people arrested in last week's pro-democracy protests in Swaziland faced charges of illegal possession of explosives yesterday, amid ongoing tensions over a severe budget crisis.
"The men were arrested last week as part of our operation. I can't disclose what kind of explosives they were found with because the matter is still in court," said police spokesman Steven Dlamini.
According to the charge sheet, they were in possession of six detonators, two blasting cartridges, two fuse cables and two igniting cords.
Maxwell Dlamini, president of Swaziland National Union of Students, and Musa Mgudeni, of the banned PUDEMO opposition group, were arrested Wednesday as police cracked down on teachers and students attempting to rally, according to the Swaziland Democracy Campaign.
"These seem to be tentative charges, and we cannot rule out the possibility that police actually planted" the explosives, said Sikela Dlamini, an activist with the campaign who visited the two on Sunday.
"Maxwell Dlamini admits being in possession of the bag in which explosives were found, but denied knowledge of its contents," he told AFP. "He was given the bag by somebody."
Themba Mabuza, another member of the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), said he was arrested along with Maxwell Dlamini but was later released.
He claimed they were both tortured while in custody.
"They handcuffed us and put us on benches looking up. They covered our faces with plastic bags, and then a cop sits on your stomach so it's not easy to breathe," Mabuza told AFP.
Unions launched pro-democracy marches in Swaziland on Tuesday last week but police used water cannons, tear gas and mass arrests to break up the protests.
A second day of protests Wednesday failed when police stormed a teachers' union building where activists were gathering.
The protests were a rare display of public discontent with King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, whose fortune estimated at $100 million places him by Forbes magazine.
His government wants to slash salaries for civil servants in response to a budget crisis in a country where nearly 70 percent of the population lives on less than one dollar a day.
Discontent with that plan mounted Monday when the Times of Swaziland reported that cabinet members had received their normal salaries for April, despite an announcement that their pay was to be cut by 10 percent this month.
"The whole exercise was done in bad faith. Cabinet was not honestly committed to salary cuts. They wanted to sway public opinion," said Vincent Dlamini, secretary general of the civil servant's union.
"They wanted to distract people from the fundamental questions like, who is responsible and what happened to the country's money?" Dlamini told AFP. "The honourable thing for them to do is resign." - AFP