The king of Eswatini has appointed a new prime minister, ignoring calls for democratic reforms as police cracked down on protests.
In his first public address since violent demonstrations broke out in the kingdom last month, King Mswati III announced that former pension fund boss Cleopas Dlamini would replace Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, who died in December after contracting COVID-19.
“I have prayed that I have a man that would bring the country to normalcy, restore the country and resuscitate the economy,” Mswati told crowds gathered on Friday at the Ludzidzini Royal Palace, around 20km (12.4 miles) south of the capital Mbabane.
“The man that I announce to the nation is Cleopas Dlamini,” he said.
The new prime minister has the same surname as his predecessor, but the name is very common in Eswatini and the pair are not knowingly related.
The announcement was made following demonstrations demanding the right to democratically elect a prime minister among other reforms in Africa’s only remaining absolute monarchy.
In his remarks on the protests, the king called them “satanic” and said they had taken the country backwards.
Protesters took to the streets again on Friday in Manzini, the second-largest city, before the king’s address.
Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Secretary General Sikelela Dlamini told Reuters news agency that police fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse protesters in the city.
Activists said two people were wounded and that police arrested 15 others.
A video posted to Facebook by the Swaziland United Democratic Front, a pro-democracy coalition including political parties, churches and unions, showed protesters singing and dancing in the street before fleeing as shots rang out behind them.
It was not clear who was firing or what they were shooting at.
“Police have been shooting at crowds since morning, from as early as 7am,” Lucky Lukhele, spokesman for the pro-democracy Swaziland Solidarity Network, told AFP news agency.
Civil society and opposition groups demonstrated in Manzini and Mbabane late last month, looting shops and ransacking properties, some of which belonged to the king.
At least 27 people died as police clashed with protesters in some of the worst unrest in the country’s history.
Eswatini, a landlocked state in southern Africa, was previously known as Swaziland.
Crowned in 1986 at the age of 18, Mswati III, who has 15 wives and more than 25 children, is criticised for his iron fist and lavish lifestyle in a country where two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line.