Swaziland protests overwhelmed by violence

Swaziland’s pro-democracy campaigners are urging determination in the face of police who used water cannons, tear gas, beatings and arrests to put down demonstrations this week.

Labour leaders involved in the protests called them off late on Wednesday, the second of what would have been three days of demonstrations to demand reforms in sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy. But other organisers are pushing for more.

In a statement on Thursday, the Swaziland Solidarity Network said ending protests would tell Swazi authorities all that is required to stop them “are a few blows to the head”.

Police presence was heavy with no signs of demonstrations early on Thursday on the streets of Manzini, the economic hub where activists have tried to protest.

Swazi police fired tear gas to disperse activists who held anti-government protests for a second day on Wednesday, despite a call to stop the action after a police crackdown.

Union leaders said they had suspended their protest against King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, to re-strategise as fresh arrests and a heavy police presence in the main city blocked activists from rallying.

Hundreds of teachers at first refused to end the protest and police fired tear gas to remove them from an office where they were staging a sit-in.

But the stand-off ended after several hours, said Muzi Masuku, a spokesperson for the Open Society non-governmental organisation, which helped mediate in the crisis.

The protesters want the free-spending king to loosen his grip on power and allow multi-party democracy, and are also angry at government proposals to slash salaries for civil servants amid a severe budget crisis.

Unions called for the protests on Tuesday to mark the 38th anniversary of the banning of political parties in a country where 70% of the people live in dire poverty and 25% of adults have HIV, the world’s highest rate. — Sapa-AP

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