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S. Africa Public Workers Hold 1-Day Strike

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From Associated Press

In the largest labor protest since apartheid ended, hundreds of thousands of South African public workers held a one-day strike Tuesday, marching in cities across the country to demand wage increases.

But President Thabo Mbeki’s 2-month-old administration--facing a breach with its traditional labor support--signaled its determination to hold firm against workers’ demands, despite earlier indications that it would hold new talks with unions.

Many schools were closed Tuesday, and work in courthouses trickled to a standstill as teachers, nurses, prosecutors and other public employees stayed off the job.

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In Pretoria, an estimated 35,000 demonstrators gathered, holding banners that read “Negotiate in good faith” and “We cannot fight corruption with 6.3%.”

While the wage issue was important, union leaders also charged that the government violated labor laws by implementing a 6.3% increase on its own after bargaining broke down earlier this month.

The unions are asking for a hike of at least 7.3%.

Underscoring the social changes sweeping South Africa, white state workers--who under apartheid were virtually guaranteed the best jobs at higher pay--joined the strike.

An estimated 100,000 strikers participated in marches across the country, and most were peaceful. But in Johannesburg, police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades after an alleged rampage by 3,000 high school students. One injury was reported.

The students were marching to urge the two sides to resolve their dispute.

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