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Swaziland to Buy King $45M Jet

November 11, 2002

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MBABANE, Swaziland (AP) _ Reneging on a promise not to buy a $45 million jet for Swaziland’s king, the government said Monday it would go ahead with the deal in defiance of criticism over lavish spending in a nation facing a food crisis.

The cabinet had canceled its original plans for the jet after a storm of protest from foreign donors and the Swazi parliament, citing the country’s economic problems.

Criticism of King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, is rare in the royalist-dominated parliament of this mountainous, impoverished nation wedged between South Africa and Mozambique.

The initial announcement that the government was buying the plane _ at a cost nine times the national deficit _ prompted legislators to demand the prime minister’s resignation.

They complained again Monday at being sidelined in the decision.

Natural Resources and Energy Minister Magwagwa Mdluli defended the purchase, saying it would enable the monarch to fly safely when seeking foreign aid and luring investors.

``People say the hunger will be worse by the purchase of the jet. This is untrue. In fact, the jet is essential for the king to travel to overseas countries to scout for food,″ he said.

An estimated 270,000 of Swaziland’s 1 million people face hunger this year in a food shortage affecting southern Africa.

The jet incident is the second flap in recent weeks involving Mswati, 34, who was embarrassed by a court case over his taking of a 10th wife. The new wife has apparently been reluctant, and her mother had asked Swaziland’s court system to force the royal family to release her daughter.

The woman dropped her suit, saying she had little chance of winning. Human rights groups had criticized what they called the Swazi practice of ``abducting″ wives. The Swazi king can marry as many times as he wants.

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