The Prime Minister of Eswatini has denied that King Mswati III has fled to South Africa following clashes between security forces and protesters.
Pro-democracy protests intensified overnight in the country, formerly known as Swaziland, with government buildings, shops and trucks set ablaze.
The 53-year-old king, who took the throne 35 years ago, rules by decree.
Critics accuse him and his 15 wives of leading a lavish lifestyle and harsh treatment of opponents.
His private plane was reported to have taken off from Eswatini, a landlocked country smaller than the US state of New Jersey, on Monday night.
But Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuko called for calm in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, saying such reports were untrue.
“Following the false media reports circulating, I would like to take this opportunity to assure emaSwati and the international community that His Majesty King Mswati III is in the country and continues to lead the work with the government to advance the kingdom’s goals.” The statement said.
The private Swazi News published on Twitter some scenes of the unrest, showing buildings burning in Matsapha, an industrial city that has seen a lot of violence.
Why are people protesting?
The problems began in May after the body of law student Thabane Nkomoni was found outside the city of Manzini.
Police said he was the victim of a car accident, but the students claimed the police were involved in his death.
Demonstrations erupted in response, originally organized under the hashtag #JusticeforThabani – calling for an end to police brutality and have since morphed into calls for political change.
Things began to deteriorate over the weekend after the government banned protests – when people were gathering to hand out petitions for change.
Crowds gathered, carrying banners and chanting slogans calling on King Mswati to make way for democratic reform.
“The formation of this government responds to people’s complaints with the use of violence and force,” Mlungisi Makhania, leader of the opposition Bodemo party, told BBC radio’s Focus on Africa programme.
What reforms do they want?
According to Mr Makhania, young people want political freedoms and jobs – in particular an elected prime minister with executive power.
Another major demand is to end the royal family’s exorbitant spending as most Swazis who have a job work in neighboring South Africa and send their earnings back home.
“They are demanding an end to royal sovereignty so that so much national money is not spent on feeding one family,” he said.
“It is unhealthy for any nation in the world to have powers that remain with one family at the expense of the entire nation.”
Makhania says the country’s basic infrastructure and services are collapsing, including health services in a country with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world.
“Our people are dying needlessly because ambulances cannot reach people because of the poor condition of our roads,” he added.
what is happening now?
According to Agence France-Presse, soldiers deployed during the night in Matsapha.
There are chaotic scenes in the capital, Mbabane, where a journalist told the BBC that residents were fleeing, with traffic jams outside the city and cars queuing at gas stations for fuel.
A shop assistant in Mbabane told Reuters news agency, “I can hear gunshots and the smell of tear gas. I don’t know how I’m going to go home, there is nothing in the rank of the bus, there is a strong presence of riot police and army.”
The army was also reportedly deployed there and businesses and schools were closed.
Some amplifiers indicate that the MTN Eswatini mobile network is no longer working.
There were also reports of an arrest warrant issued for two deputies who were at the forefront of calling for democratic change.