Swaziland protests overwhelmed by violence

Swaziland's pro-democracy campaigners are urging determination in the face of police who used water cannon, tear gas, beatings and arrests to put down demonstrations this week, but protests are dying out.

Labor leaders involved in the protests called off late Wednesday the second of what would have been three consecutive days of demonstrations to call for reforms in sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy. But other organizers are pushing for more.

In a statement 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 Thursday on the streets of Manzini, the economic hub where activists have tried to protest.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network said four youth leaders were detained Thursday.

A pro-democracy movement in Swaziland, spearheaded by the unions, has gained some ground since the cash-strapped government announced in March its plan to freeze civil service salaries and sell off state-run companies. But besides the government crackdown, reformists have had to contend with reverence for the monarchy among many Swazis. That was reflected in differing goals among protest organizers, with some calling for a new Cabinet to serve the king, and others calling for toppling the monarchy.

Activists have criticized King Mswati III for living lavishly while most Swazis live in poverty, and for repressing human rights and harassing and jailing pro-democracy activists.

The kingdom of about 1 million wedged between South Africa and Mozambique has high rates of unemployment and AIDS.

Mswati has ruled for nearly a quarter century, since the death of his father, King Sobhuza II, who was revered as a benevolent traditional leader. Sobhuza's banning of political parties and quashing of the country's constitution in April, 1973 have never been reversed.