King Mswati III of eSwatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, has allegedly fled his country as pro-democracy protests turned violent, according to the South African Broadcasting Corp. But eSwatini government spokesman Sabelo Dlamini denied the king had fled, Reuters reported. Demonstrators have set fire to several shops in Matsapha town in central eSwatini, according to neighbouring South Africa’s state-owned broadcaster. Police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protesters demanding democracy in the country that has banned political parties since the early 1970s. eSwatini, which was previously known as Swaziland until 2018, has been led by King Mswati III since 1986 when he was 18.
Protests are usually rare in eSwatini. The government had last Thursday banned protests, with National Police Commissioner William Dlamini warning that officers would be “zero-tolerant” of breaches of the ban.
The 53-year-old king has come under fire for his expensive tastes and spending while most inhabitants live below the poverty line. Mswati reportedly has 15 wives – his predecessor had 125.
In 2019, the country was rocked by a series of strikes by civil servants who accused the monarch of draining public coffers at the expense of his subjects.