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King Mswati jets off to British royal wedding

MBABANE, Apr 27 – Swaziland\’s King Mswati III left his country on a private jet specially chartered for his trip to attend the royal wedding of Britain\’s Prince William and Kate Middleton, a source said.

"There were between 15 and 20 people with him," a local journalist who asked not to be named told AFP.

Mswati left under tight security at 1:00 am local time (2300 GMT), accompanied by Foreign Minister Lutfo Dlamini, several aides and at least one of his 13 wives.

"It was difficult to tell if there were more members of the royal family already inside the jet once journalists were allowed on the tarmac," the source said.

On Tuesday Dlamini defended the 43-year-old king\’s decision to attend the royal wedding despite protest in the kingdom, saying British royalty had attended Mswati\’s coronation in 1986.

The king\’s jet-set lifestyle with a fortune estimated at $100 million has become increasingly controversial in Swaziland, where the government wants to slash salaries for civil servants to cope with a crippling budget crisis.

In a country where nearly 70 percent of people live on less than a dollar a day, he has built million-dollar palaces for each of his wives, giving them BMWs and personal staff and sending them on overseas shopping sprees by private jet.

Discontent erupted into street protests earlier this month, with police detaining, beating and tear-gassing demonstrators.

Swazi activists are calling for a "Red Friday" protest this week, the same day as the wedding, urging people to wear red to show their support for the pro-democracy movement in Africa\’s last absolute monarchy.

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