MBABANE - Swaziland's King Mswati has barred photographers from taking pictures of his growing fleet of royal limousines amid criticism that the luxury car purchases are an embarrassment to one of Africa's poorest countries.

Mswati stirred up a storm in December when he bought a new US$500,000 ($705,000) DaimlerChrysler Maybach 62 - one of the most expensive cars in the world - and recently hit the headlines again when he splashed out for new BMWs for each of his 10 wives.

The royal edict barring photos of the cars came after Mswati appeared in an even newer and more expensive stretch Mercedes S600 limousine for the opening of parliament on Friday.

Stunned photographers swarmed to get a photo of the new royal car but were quickly blocked by security guards, the Times of Swaziland reported on Sunday.

"You may not take pictures of the King when he alights from his car," a written royal decree said.

The 36-year-old king, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has run into flak for extravagant spending despite the fact that his tiny, impoverished kingdom suffers frequent food shortages and one of the world's highest Aids infection rates.

Mswati was forced to shelve plans three years ago to spend US$45 million on a new royal jet, but has shown little inclination to rein in other royal spending projects which include a US$15 million project to build individual new palaces for his growing retinue of wives.

Mswati's new Mercedes limousine was custom built in Germany and is the only one of its kind in Africa, local sources said.

"The king's latest acquisition has been kept as a top secret within the royal family following the criticism he got after buying the luxurious Maybach 62," the Times of Swaziland said.

- REUTERS