Police tear-gassed Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and several hundred children without warning outside a South African church Wednesday after he had persuaded the youngsters to stop an anti-apartheid protest.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner told a news conference later that Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok would have to restrain his police if he wants to avoid an eruption of bloodshed in white-ruled South Africa.
"I want to issue a public warning in all responsibility and seriousness to Mr. Vlok that if he does not restrain his forces and if they behave in the way we saw today then we are on the brink of a major disaster," Tutu said.
'An Incredible Eagerness'
Tutu said he was tear-gassed without provocation and after he had agreed to persuade about 500 school pupils to leave their church sanctuary and head straight home.
"Without any warning whatsoever they fired tear gas at us. They showed an incredible eagerness . . . to use the whole range of their armory," he said.
His comments were echoed by Jakes Gerwel, rector of the mixed-race University of the Western Cape, who was with Tutu at the church.
"They fired tear gas right at us. There was no warning," Gerwel said. "It was totally unprovoked and unreasonable."
Tutu walked through the clouds of tear gas and told a policeman: "You can't tear gas them (the children). They haven't done anything."
"I don't care," the policeman replied, according to witnesses.
Gerwel said Tutu had gone to the Holy Cross church in the black township of Guguletu near Cape Town after hearing that schoolchildren were planning a demonstration in support of a three-week-old national campaign of anti-apartheid defiance.
After talking to police, Tutu persuaded the children to leave the church and go home.
'Going to Leave Quietly'
"I believe it was a genuine agreement. They were going to leave quietly," Gerwel said.
Police fired the tear gas when Tutu and the children left the church, Gerwel said.
Police, using tear gas and rubber bullets, also broke up a demonstration by several thousand staff and students at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town.
The police opened fire when the demonstrators approached the gates of the university adjoining a main road.