- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

Swaziland panel starts drafting constitution

MBABANE, Swaziland A constitutional committee began work on drafting a new constitution yesterday for Africa's last absolute monarchy by meeting three Commonwealth experts, a source close to the talks said.

King Mswati III, opening the parliament Friday, said the drafting team would have to take its work to the people before it is adopted, but the constitutional reforms were slammed as a "circus" by the pro-democracy movement.

"The opposition has not changed. We are not going to associate ourselves with this circus," Bonginkosi Dlamini, secretary-general of the opposition People's United Democratic Movement, told Agence France-Presse. He dismissed the process as an exercise "to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community."

Zimbabwe violence disturbs Pretoria

HARARE, Zimbabwe South African election observers here said yesterday they were "disturbed" by reports of political violence around the country ahead of the March 9-10 presidential elections.

Samuel Motsuenyane, the mission's chief, deplored "clashes and violence in Epworth and in the city that took place a few days ago, where windows of the offices of the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] were broken and some people injured."

"It is alleged that the police were present and did not act to prevent the incidents. This is a matter of great concern," he told at a news conference.

In the sprawling shantytown of Epworth, Mr. Motsuenyane said the South African observers had interviewed victims of political violence who said they were beaten to prevent them from attending a campaign rally.

Africans in Mecca earn cash as porters

MECCA, Saudi Arabia Four black bearers struggle to pick a path through the dense crowd to carry an ailing pilgrim seated on an open palanquin into the heart of the Grand Mosque.

It appears like a scene from a bygone age brought to life here constantly to allow the faithful, however frail, to take part in one of the essential rituals of the annual hajj. Sturdy men from African Muslim states transport a pilgrim in procession seven times around the Kaaba stone, symbolizing the house of God.

"I am a construction worker, but I do this job during the hajj season to earn a bit more money," said Saleh Mohammed, 40, from Nigeria. The seven circumambulations cost riders $65 to $80.

"There are too many of us, which means we only carry one or two pilgrims each a day," Mr. Saleh lamented.

Weekly notes

Festus Keyamo, lawyer for the prime suspect in the Dec. 23 murder of Nigeria's Justice Minister Bola Ige, was charged yesterday with perjury but released on $9,000 bail after pleading not guilty. The hearing was adjourned to April 3. Mr. Keyamo told Agence France-Presse the police were trying to implicate him because of his efforts to assist in "fishing out the minister's killers." … Long-awaited talks to bring lasting peace in the Congo start Monday in Sun City, South Africa, where rivals are expected to discuss power sharing, rebuilding the country and setting a timetable for elections. But hopes for an agreement to end more than three years of war were dashed this week when the Uganda-backed rebel Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) said it would not take part, claiming many groups invited to the talks were fronts for President Joseph Kabila's government.

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