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Domestic CP - August 2005

Corpun file 16548, 28 August 2005

Report: Swazi princess whipped for loud music

EZULWINI VALLEY, Swaziland (Reuters) -- The king of Swaziland's daughter was whipped by a palace official at a party of teenage virgins ahead of a festival where more than 50,000 maidens are available to become her father's 13th wife, media said on Sunday.

Princess Sikhanyiso, 17, told the Times of Swaziland a palace official whipped girls, including beauty queen Miss Swaziland, at the party as a punishment after they refused to turn down the music. She was pictured showing her bruises.

Thousands of bare-breasted virgins will dance for Africa's last absolute monarch in Monday's Reed Dance ceremony, which King Mswati III has used to choose new brides.

Critics say the ancient ceremony, meant to celebrate womanhood and virginity, has become little more than a shop window for the 37-year-old king to choose young brides.

The official, who was charged with supervising the princess and her friends ahead of the ceremony, denied he had whipped the girls, the paper said.

No one at the palace was immediately available for comment.

Thousands of girls, some swathed in drapes bearing the king's image and some in beaded mini skirts, streamed into the royal compound on Sunday singing songs and carrying towering reeds to present to the Queen Mother -- also known as the Great She Elephant.

The girls -- who must be virgins and older than 13 -- were flanked by male supervisors dressed in animal-skin loin cloths with traditional porcupine quills in their hair.

Mswati has courted controversy for his lavish lifestyle while two thirds of his subjects live in abject poverty. Critics say he sets a bad example by encouraging polygamy and teenage sex in a country where 40 percent of adults live with HIV.

But many Swazis say the young monarch has a right to do as he pleases, arguing ceremonies like the Reed Dance cement national identity.

The king, who has 12 wives, has drawn censure from rights groups and the international community for entrenching a ban on political parties and flouting the rule of law in the nation of 1 million people, which is squeezed between South Africa and Mozambique.

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