Swazi protesters infuriated by reports of royal trip to Vegas

As government workers agitate for better pay in Swaziland, reports that their king is sending three of his wives on holiday in Las Vegas have incensed protesters who fault his extravagance.

Teachers have refused for nearly five weeks to teach in the African nation ensconced between South Africa and Mozambique, insisting on a 4.5% pay increase to match growing costs. Nurses and other public workers have also pushed for better wages. The Swazi government has declared the strike illegal and refused their demands, reportedly suppressing protests with rubber bullets.

Swaziland has been under financial strain: The International Monetary Fund urged the government to cut back earlier this year, warning it needed to reduce its overall spending on wages. The country canceled royal silver jubilee festivities last year and has slashed scholarships for university students, saying it must stem its costs.

"God warned the Swazi people not to love money,” King Mswati III reportedly told his subjects earlier this week, urging them to love God instead.

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Beyond the United Kingdom -- a royal rundown


The United Kingdom isn’t the only kingdom out there. As Queen Elizabeth II is feted this weekend in a Diamond Jubilee marking 60 years on the throne, here are some other monarchs from around the globe and what they've been up to.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej:  The deeply revered 84-year-old king of Thailand has little direct power, but offending him can land Thais in jail. Critics complain that the lese-majeste law -- meaning "injured majesty" -- undercuts free expression. Royalists see the law as an important way to uphold his dignity.

King Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz al Saud: The elderly king heads the Sunni Muslim royal family that gives Saudi Arabia its name. His attempts to loosen the religious lock on Saudi life have been crimped by religious fundamentalists. Despite steps toward reform, such as giving women the right to vote, the kingdom has continued to be criticized for human rights abuses under his rule.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia: The Spanish royals have had a difficult year. The king was scolded for going on an elephant hunt. His grandson shot himself in the foot. And his son-in-law was named as a suspect in a corruption case. As the country grapples with economic woes, some Spaniards are asking why they should have a monarch at all.

King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa: For more than a year, the Sunni monarch of Bahrain has been confronted with protests agitating for greater democracy. The ongoing unrest threatened to overshadow the Formula 1 races earlier this year as the king argued that reforms were already underway.

Emperor Akihito: The emperor has no formal political sway, but his imperial role still has symbolic power in Japan. Before the princess gave birth to a boy six years ago, the absence of young male heirs nearly caused a succession crisis and revived debate over whether women should be allowed to take the throne.

Prince Albert: When the Monaco monarch got married last year, his nuptials got an unfortunate nickname -- "the other wedding." Just weeks after Prince William and Kate Middleton tied the knot, Prince Albert II married Charlene Wittstock in the European principality.

King Abdullah II and Queen Rania: The Jordanian monarchs have weathered criticism for extravagance and faced demands to stop corruption, but the protests have been less heated than in other countries rocked by the "Arab Spring."

King Mswati III: The king of Swaziland holds absolute power in this landlocked southern African country and has faced growing anger over financial woes, especially in light of his own extravagance. Earlier this year, Swazi officials said a new law was in the works to punish people who insult the king online.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck: The Bhutan monarch is an Oxford graduate who loves Elvis Presley. He has said his wedding last year will be his only one, a break from the polygamous past of the royal family. (His father wedded four sisters.)

Crown Prince Haakon: Though King Harald V is the reigning monarch in Norway, it was his son who grabbed headlines by marrying a single mother with a wild past more than a decade ago, stirring up talk about whether Norway really wanted such down-to-earth royals.


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Photo: A man holds up a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as thousands of people wait for his arrival for a ceremony in Thung Makham Yong in Ayutthaya province, north of Bangkok, on May 25, 2012. Credit: Christophe Archambault / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Swaziland may make insulting king on Twitter, Facebook a crime

King Mswati III of Swaziland

Insulting the king on Facebook or Twitter could become a crime in Swaziland, an absolute monarchy in Southern Africa that has faced new criticism online and in the streets.

Under King Mswati III, Swaziland tightly controls the nation's media, clamping down on criticism of the monarch or the government as a whole. With a hamstrung press, online outlets such as Twitter have become a tool for Swazi dissidents to plan protests and share ideas.

Swazi officials have pledged to put an end to that. "Surely there is something that must be done with them. There must be a law that can take them to task," Sen. Thuli Msane was quoted in the Times of Swaziland. The Swazi justice minister reportedly said a new law to punish offenders was in the works.

Freedom House, an international group that advocates for free speech, called it “an alarming move.” Though only 1.2 million people in the country have Internet access, the group said, social media have played an important role in protests, including student demonstrations against cutbacks to higher education last fall.

"The government is desperate right now. They are trying anything to stop people talking to each other," Swaziland Solidarity Network spokesman Pius Vilakati told the Guardian. "I don't think Swazis will take it lying down."

Mswati has faced growing anger over financial woes, especially in light of his own extravagance. Human Rights Watch called it "a serious crisis of governance" that had "left the country on the brink of economic disaster." Poverty, unemployment and HIV infection are rampant in the small country ensconced between South Africa and Mozambique.

In Thailand, a similar law that allows prison sentences of up to 15 years for insulting the king is causing concern. Charges jumped dramatically amid rising political tensions and "Red Shirt" protests.


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Photo: King Mswati III reviews his troops in the 2008 movie "Without the King." Credit: First Run Features


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