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S.African police arrest 350 after clashes at platinum mine

Police arrested at least 350 people after a deadly violence during an illegal strike at the world’s largest platinum mine run by South Africa’s Impala Platinum, a senior officer said Sunday.

At least one person died as rival groups of workers clashed, with roads blocked, cars stoned, shops looted and a small police station torched on Thursday and Friday outside the northwestern town of Rustenburg.

Police Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said at least 350 people had been arrested and faced charges ranging from public violence to theft.

Many miners went home for the weekend, leaving the site quiet, but Ngubane warned that Monday could see fresh unrest.

“The people responsible must put an end to this. That is all we are asking for,” he told the Sapa news agency.

Many of the shops looted during the unrest belonged to Somali and Ethiopian immigrants, about 100 of whom had fled their businesses to seek shelter in nearby areas, he added.

The strike began on January 20, but a court declared it illegal, allowing the company to sack more than 17,000 workers who did not return to work.

A week ago, Implats agreed to re-hire them, but the deal failed to address the root cause of the strike — discontent that some categories of workers had been awarded bonuses while others had been left out.

Impala, the world’s second-largest platinum producer, blames the unrest on feuding among rival unions.

The labour dispute has delayed production at the mine, which usually produces 3,000 ounces of platinum a day.

On Tuesday, Impala said the strike had cost production of a total of 60,000 ounces, with lost earnings at 1.2 billion rand ($152 million, 120 million euros).

The main union, the National Union of Mineworkers, urged strikers to return to work.

“The NUM is committed to a peaceful resolution at Implats and appeals to all its members and workers in general to return to the operations next week when their issues are being addressed,” spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said in a statement.

“The NUM strongly condemns the violent behaviour demonstrated by criminal elements taking advantage of the volatile situation and appeals for calm as well as to the law enforcement agencies to make decisive intervention whenever violence raises its ugly head,” he said.