Activist in Swaziland says union leaders arrested

Union leaders were arrested as they gathered for an anti-monarchy protest in Swaziland Thursday, according to a democracy activist in the southern African country.

Lucky Lukhele, spokesman for the Swaziland Solidarity Network, said the head of the nation's teachers union was among an unknown number of leaders arrested. Police spokeswoman Wendy Hleta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Political parties are banned in Swaziland, leaving unions to play a leading role in campaigning for reform.

Activists had called for protests Wednesday and Thursday, ahead of nationwide celebrations planned for King Mswati III's 44th birthday next week. Few protesters turned out, but police and soldiers are on the streets in large numbers.

Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini issued a statement Wednesday saying security agents have been instructed to "protect life and property" and that the planned protests were illegal.