7 Sep 2008

Swaziland celebrates king's birthday and independence

8:51 am on 7 September 2008

Swaziland, one of the world's last absolute monarchies, is celebrating the 40th birthday of King Mswati III and the country's 40th year of independence.

The $US10 million event known as 40-40 has prompted protests in the kingdom, where two-thirds of the population live in poverty.

Last week, demonstrators looted a market and set off an explosion, as a second day of calls for democratic reform and more social spending turned violent.

Swaziland won independence from Britain in 1968. A parliamentary election is due to be held on 19 September despite the opposition being effectively banned by royal decree since 1973.

Citizens were allowed to vote in 1993 for the first time, but the king still controls the legislature.