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Rioters set South African townships ablaze near Pretoria

AFP , Thursday 6 Feb 2014
South Africa
People set alight tyres near Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 (Photo: AP)
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South African police fired stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets Thursday to disperse thousands of rioters demanding basic government services in communities near Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Security forces were deployed to several flashpoints in Gauteng province as protesters blocked streets and set ablaze police stations and other municipal buildings as well as tyres.

In Bronkhorstspruit, near Pretoria, a crowd of about 4,000 residents went on the rampage, intensifying unrest that has gripped the area for nearly a week.

Around 50 residents were detained after a local clinic and several buildings were set alight.

Residents are protesting against high electricity tariffs and intermittent power supply.

Police threw up their own barricades to contain the violence.

"Some people tried to push through the barricade and we had to fire stun grenades," said police spokesman Johannes Japhta.

"The situation is tense but our members are prepared to deal with the violence," he said.

Several armoured police vehicles, some fixed with water cannon, patrolled the township, preventing people from exiting the area.

Violent protests have sprung up across the country since the beginning of the year, with most focusing on a lack of government services.

In some cases police have retaliated with live fire, with unconfirmed reports that at least nine people have been killed.

In Sebokeng, east of Johannesburg, six people were arrested for public violence after residents demand housing clashed with police.

Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to quell the protest that resumed in the early hours of Thursday.

"Police had formed a barricade to prevent people from blocking the township's main street, some youths tried to force their way through, and we had to fire rubber bullets and tear gas," said police spokesman Tshekiso Mofokeng.

The government has condemned the violence and warned demonstrators against the use of children as "human shields" to separate the crowds from police.

In January, a 15-year-old boy was shot dead outside the northern town of Tzaneen when police opened fire on a crowd.

The unrest comes as the country gears up for elections expected in the first half of the year, seen as a major test for the ruling African National Congress.

The party on Thursday denied the protests were about poor service delivery.

"Criminals should not be allowed to terrorise our communities," said ANC Gauteng secretary David Makhura.

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