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Posted: 7/27/2001 12:01:57 AM EDT
THURSDAY JULY 26 2001 Bottom line forces King to recant FROM MICHAEL DYNES IN JOHANNESBURG KING MSWATI III of Swaziland abolished a decree yesterday that made it a criminal offence for his subjects to bare their buttocks in protest at royal edicts. Bowing to domestic and international pressure, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa revoked a contentious edict that granted him powers to ban newspapers, overturn court rulings and jail anyone for ridiculing him. The King, who is required by tradition to choose a new wife during the annual Reed Dance of bare-breasted maidens, took offence at a group of women who bared their buttocks at his brother, Prince Maguga, in protest at the monarch’s decision to impose him as the local chief. The baring of buttocks is a common expression of popular dissent and disapproval and the King was determined to stamp out the practice by making it a criminal offence for anyone to attempt to impersonate, ridicule or insult the Royal Family. Last month’s decree, which came after the banning of two publications critical of the monarchy, also enabled the Government to ban any book, magazine or newspaper without a reason and abolished bail for a series of offences including holding unlawful public protests. Although most of the mountain kingdom’s one million people knew nothing of the King’s new powers, some trade unionists, human rights activists and pro-democracy groups reacted with howls of protest. Even the US State Department, which does not normally rate Swaziland high on its list of international priorities, gave warning that it would consider imposing economic sanctions if the decree was not revoked. In his defence, King Mswati said that he had not had time to read the royal edict in detail before it became law. Having been made aware of its shortcomings through domestic and international protests, he had decided that the measure should be repealed.
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