Monday, November 17, 2008

AFP Swazi opposition leader charged with terrorism

Swazi opposition leader charged with terrorism

SITEKI, Swaziland (AFP) — Swaziland opposition leader Mario Masuku was charged Monday with terrorism and remanded in police custody, court officials said.

Masuku, leader of the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), was arrested on Saturday as part of a crackdown under the country's anti-terrorism laws.

He made no plea at the magistrates' court in Siteki, about 180 kilometres (115 miles) east of the capital Mbabane, as he made his first appearance before the judges, according to an AFP reporter at the hearing.

His case will come up on November 24 at the High Court of Swaziland, the officials said. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Swaziland is Africa's last absolute monarchy and political organisations here have been banned since 1973.

The king makes all key government appointments.

King Mswati III, who ascended the throne at age 18, has the power to appoint the prime minister, the legislature and the judiciary.

Masuku, 56, a vocal campaigner for multi-party democracy, was arrested in the mid 1980s for treason, a case he later won on appeal.

Swaziland is one of Africa's poorest countries, with one of the world's highest HIV rates, and some have blamed the king's extravagant lifestyle -- financed by the state -- for draining Swaziland's finances.

A series of small bomb blasts have rattled the country in recent months. The banned Umbane People's Liberation Army has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

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