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Police use stun grenades at Johannesburg election rally

South Africa’s heated election campaign escalated into violence Wednesday, forcing Johannesburg police to fire rubber bullets and stun grenades to separate armed supporters of the ruling ANC from an opposition rally.

African National Congress militants brandished sticks and hurled Molotov cocktails and bricks at members of the Democratic Alliance holding a march near the ANC’s headquarters to highlight vast unemployment in the country.

Police responded with force, rounding up stone-throwing youths, while forming a human barrier between supporters of the rival parties.

DA supporter Mellisa Cohen said the march had intended to be peaceful.

“We are here to make our voice heard and we are met with violence. It’s not right, especially in a democratic country,” she said.

“We all have a right to express ourselves. This is barbaric.”

The ANC had called the march a reckless provocation and a declaration of war against the party’s headquarters.

After failing to have the march banned in court, the ruling party set the stage for the standoff by bussing in thousands of its own supporters to the city centre for a rival rally.

Gripping a brick painted with the letters “DA” 20-year-old ANC supporter Kamogelo promised violence as the DA march approached.

“These people must use bricks today, they must use it,” he said.

“There’s no toyi toyi (demonstration) without violence. There’s a lot to happen here, there’s a lot. We are ready for DA.”

South Africans will go to the polls on May 7 to vote in the country’s fifth democratic election since the end of Apartheid in 1994.

The run-up to the vote has been overshadowed by violent demonstrations about the lack of basic services and jobs.

Out of a working age population of 35 million only 15.2 million South Africans are actually employed.

Both major parties have made a promise to create jobs a key plank of their manifestos.

The ANC is widely expected to extend its 20 years in government during the election, but the Democratic Alliance hopes to chisel away at its support and perhaps win control of key provinces and wards.