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Police Kill Six Blacks in Street Battles

April 23, 1987

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Police shot six blacks to death Wednesday during street battles that began after the government-owned railroad fired 16,000 striking black workers, officials reported.

They said the violence occurred at a Johannesburg railroad station and union buildings in Johannesburg and Germiston, a suburb 22 miles southeast of the city.

The government Bureau for Information said three people were killed and five wounded in downtown Johannesburg when police opened fire when four officers were attacked by a crowd. It said three policemen were seriously injured.

The fighting was the worst in Johannesburg sice the white government imposed a nationwide state of emergency June 12, 1986, to quell unrest against the apartheid policy of race discrimination. It took place at midday in a commercial and warehouse area on the edge of the central business district.

Photographer Juhan Kuus said he saw 50 black men carrying axes and clubs march a half-mile to the Doornfontein railroad station from the headquarters building of the 600,000-member Congress of South African Trade Unions. The federation’s affiliate include the South African Railway and Harbor Workers Union, which has led the 6-week-old strike.

Kuus said that officers blocked the marchers and that a white police major who tossed a tear gas canister was thrown up against a wall, beaten and stabbed. Police responded with gunfire, he said, and he later saw at least three dead strikers and four seriously wounded policemen.

Many blacks serve as police officers in South Africa, but most of those involved in Wednesday’s violence were white.

Witnesses said some injured strikers headed back to the union building after the shooting at the railroad station, fighting police as they went. A white policeman with a bloodied head ran from the gang, dodging between armored trucks and firing his pistol behind him, the witnesses reported.

Police were called into Johannesburg from other areas, said a witness at Johannesburg’s main headquarters, on the other side of the city from the trouble.

Union officials said police fired tear gas and guns outside union offices in Germiston, killing three people. The Bureau for Information said a crowd near the Germiston railroad station attacked police with stones and knives and the officers opened fire.

It said three people in the crowd were killed and two policemen injured.

Police seized at least 10 journalists working for foreign news organizations and confiscated their film.

Two videotape cameramen working for NBC News were arrested and their tape confiscated after they took pictures of police action around Johannesburg, the network reported Wednesday night.

NBC also said its bureau in Johannesburg received a call from an official of the South African Bureau for Information, offering ″friendly advice from on high″ - that NBC should use no pictures of police operations.

Emergency rules prohibit or restrict reporting about unrest, security force actions, treatment of detainees, most forms of peaceful protest and a broad range of statements the government considers subversive.

Police and soldiers have wide powers to hold suspects without charge and prohibit or restrict gatherings.

Police and soldiers surrounded the 11-story union headquarters and closed streets for a block around it, preventing at least 800 people inside from leaving for four hours. More than 20 armored cars and other officials were parked nearby.

Sharpshooters perched on neighboring buildings as dozens of soldiers and police entered and searched offices. Others scaled the outside walls, breaking windows, and witnesses said they saw clouds tear gas.

Dozens of vans carried away journalists, union members and office workers. ″They arrested a number of people, including some rioters who were wounded,″ the Bureau for Information said.

Jay Naidoo, leader of the union federation, said police would not let him enter the building.

A federation statement said: ″Our members and the broader oppressed and exploited community will never accept that management and the government can use guns and sjamboks (whips) to crush the legitimate demands of workers.″

Naidoo predicted at a news conference that further police attacks on workers would cause an escalation of unrest against the government.

Telephone and telex service to the building were interrupted. About 50 railway union members continued meeting through the day in a locked hall and a union official said hundreds of railway workers attended another meeting on the ground floor.

At 5 p.m. a woman police officer announced over a loudspeaker that everyone must leave the building. Mike Roussos, spokesman for the striking railway workers, said police told him at the door that anyone who did not leave within 10 minutes would be removed forcibly.

Troops and police moved in at 5:10 p.m., taking handcuffed workers out to police vans.

Rail union spokesman Mike Roussos, who is white, said: ″We’re not sure what happened but there is blood all over the foyer. There were shots on the ground floor and it appears that they attacked the workers who were gathered in the (meeting) hall.

Peter Harris, an attorney for the union federation, said the police brigadier in charge of the Johannesburg area denied any misconduct by police.

South African Transport Services had set Wednesday morning as the deadline for 18,000 rail workers to end the strike or lose their jobs. Company spokesman Dirk Buekes said about 2,000 returned to work and those still on strike were regarded as having ″terminated their services.″

The union has been seeking official recognition as the workers’ representatives for labor negotiations. In the past, negotiations have been conducted with non-union workers’ associations.

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