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EDITIONS
 Friday, 24 January, 2003, 17:32 GMT
Royal jet purchase 'hurts Swaziland'
King Mswati III
King Mswati III's absolute rule is attracting opposition
One of Africa's smallest countries, Swaziland, has received a warning from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) against buying a private jet for its young absolute monarch.

"It would send the wrong signals to the world that your country does not need donor support if he (King Mswati III) proceeds with the acquisition of the jet," a visiting IMF delegation said.

They warned that buying the jet could doubly damage Swaziland's economy by alienating international donors, whilst depleting the country's foreign exchange reserves.

Swazi finance minister Majozi Sithole rebuked the IMF for criticising the planned purchase of the $45m (27.6m) jet from Canadian plane-maker Bombardier.

'No change of course'

"We do not necessarily have to be told by people from outside how the country's economic affairs should be managed," said Mr Sithole.

The government's decision to buy the plane would not change, he said.

Girls in the traditional Incwala dance
The king chooses his wives at an annual dance

King Mswati III's autocratic style of rule has attracted criticism at home and abroad.

About a quarter of Swaziland's one million people risk starvation from the famine sweeping drought-hit southern Africa.

Nearly half of the country's adults are thought to be infected with the virus that causes Aids, further weakening the economy of Swaziland.

As an absolute monarch, the 34-year old king rules by decree and has control over the government.

Protests

A alliance of illegal opposition parties, trade unions and businesses wants to see greater democracy, demanding curbs on the king's powers.

In recent months, the government has clashed with the courts and made clear its refusal to abide by a court ruling limiting royal power.

The ruling followed a high profile court case brought by the mother of an 18-year old girl protesting against the Swazi king's decision to make her daughter his tenth wife and take her out of school.

The opposition is planning a series of protests to prepare for a mass strike in March, though a similar protest last month attracted a poor turnout.

See also:

19 Dec 02 | Africa
04 Dec 02 | Africa
01 Nov 02 | Africa
04 Feb 02 | Africa
06 Nov 00 | Africa
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