ANC demands change in Swaziland

Johannesburg - The African National Congress on Tuesday called for the democratisation of neighbouring Swaziland, in a rare public rebuke of the country's ruling monarchy.

"The democratisation of Swaziland must preoccupy the work of the African National Congress," the ANC said in a statement, also demanding that political prisoners be released and exiles be allowed to return.

The demands comes just weeks after the 40th anniversary of royal rule and as Swazi pro-democracy activists alleged a crackdown against critics of the government.

Tensions have been running high since 12 April, the 40th anniversary of a royal decree that transformed Swaziland from a democracy into an absolute monarchy.

A number of arrests were made as protests were also launched on 19 April, to coincide with birthday celebrations for King Mswati III.

It is unclear whether the ANC's declaration will be backed-up by actions that would force King Mswati's hand.

South Africa provides a vital economic lifeline to the land-locked kingdom.

But Pretoria has long been accused of propping up the regime through loans and soft-peddling public demands for reform.

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