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Eswatini: Govt authorities express 'condolences' for deaths in pro-democracy protests

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Eswatini Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Manqoba Khumalo has extended condolences to the families of 27 people who were killed in pro-democracy protests last week.

The Trade and Industry minister described the events as unfortunate.

**"The first one is to convey the government of the Kingdom of Eswatini's heartfelt condolences to the families of the people that have unfortunately passed away, during the events of last week. Secondly to confirm that twenty-seven people were certified dead in relation to the events of last week."- **Khumalo said.

Demonstrations first erupted in May against Africa's last absolute monarch, but escalated last week, prompting the deployment of the military.

Local civil society and opposition groups claim that up to 60 civilians were killed. The UN voiced alarm at the deadly unrest and called for an independent investigation into all alleged rights abuses, including by law enforcement.

"It was not intended, but... the nature of the attacks that were happening was such that in some instances force had to be used, and in some instances gunfire had to be exchanged, and there were casualties," he said.

"In some cases people were trapped in buildings when those buildings were burned... This is very unfortunate." He said King Mswati III, was "very concerned" about the loss of lives.

Most of the violence occurred between Monday and Thursday last week, he said.

Eswatini, previously called Swaziland, is a tiny landlocked state of 1.3 million people, sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique. Protestors last week ramped up demands for political reform in the country -- Africa's last absolute monarchy.

- 'Foreign elements' -

A probe will be launched into the actions of the security forces.

"If we find evidence of police or even the army doing something to civilians who were not part of the criminal activity, that will also be investigated through our system and rightful action taken," he said.

He said around three billion lilangeni ($210 million, 178 million euros) of business assets were lost through arson and pillaging, while an estimated 5,000 people have lost their livelihoods.

"What was happening last week was not a protest, it was looting, burning and destruction, big shops were destroyed... vandalism," the minister said.

The protesters reportedly targeted some of the businesses linked to the king who critics accuse of living lavishly along with his 15 wives while ordinary people are mired in poverty.

He blamed "foreign elements" for whipping up the violence, mentioning specifically South Africa's leftist opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party.

"There is collaboration between the people that are agitating for the instability and the EFF," he said.

The UN's rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell said on Tuesday there were claims that security forces had engaged in "disproportionate and unnecessary use of force" deployed to quell protests.

Protests first erupted in May following the death of a 25-year-old law student, allegedly at the hands of police, but the minister said that protests "quickly fizzled out".

"That issue is no longer the issue, the issue now is these political reforms that are being requested.

"We have a constitution that outlines how things are done."

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