South African Police, Rightists Battle; 4 Killed
South African neo-Nazis and police clashed before a meeting addressed by President Frederik W. de Klerk Friday, and three white extremists and a black passerby were killed, police said.
Right-wingers, most of them members of the white supremacist Afrikaanse Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), fought running battles with riot police before De Klerk’s arrival in Ventersdorp, the AWB’s stronghold.
Witnesses said police opened fire with live ammunition, and AWB supporters fired back.
“Three AWB members have died. A total of 36 people were injured, including 12 blacks and nine AWB members,” a police spokesman said.
The spokesman said one black man died in a hospital after the van in which he was traveling with 13 others was shot at by white extremists. Two other passengers were seriously injured.
AWB Secretary General Piet Rudolph told the crowd, “What we have seen here tonight is the start of the Boer uprising.”
AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche negotiated for the release of some of his supporters held at the Ventersdorp police station while hordes of his angry armed supporters barricaded the entrance to the police station.
Police used tear gas to disperse the right-wingers, some of whom were armed with hunting rifles. Clouds of tear gas hung over the streets as police chased the extremists away from the hall where De Klerk gave his speech.
The president’s helicopter circled overhead for about 30 minutes while police tried to restore order.
“It is a tragic day for South Africa that people shoot at the custodians of law and order for doing their duty,” De Klerk said.
“The government will protect any party from people who do not know how to behave themselves,” he said.
He said an excuse often used by the right for excesses, such as the incident in Ventersdorp, was that his National Party is no longer speaking to Afrikaners but is talking only to Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress. But he said the government has talked with pro-apartheid leaders before and will do so in the future.