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S. Africa Protesters Tear Gassed

May 10, 2000

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Police fired tear gas today at strikers near the coastal city of Durban who were protesting job losses, while workers in other cities gathered for marches.

Police used tear gas on the crowd of about 300 people in the working-class suburb of Lamontville after shots were fired from the crowd and strikers threw stones at passing cars, said police Capt. Trevor Reddy.

The one-day general strike was called by South Africa’s biggest trade federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, to demand minimum payments for laid-off workers and to try to force the government to slow the pace of tariff reductions.

In the capital, Pretoria, and the largest city, Johannesburg, police warned drivers to steer clear of some downtown areas as crowds began gathering for protest marches. There were no immediate reports of disturbances.

Some commuter bus companies reported passenger loads down by as much as half because workers were staying home or joining the marches.

The South African Chamber of Business, the country’s largest business organization, said the strike could cost the economy up to $4.3 billion and further weaken investor sentiment, which already has been battered by political turmoil in neighboring Zimbabwe and the weakening rand. The local currency has fallen by more than 12 percent against the dollar since January.

The 1.8-million member Congress of South African Trade Unions is allied with the ruling African National Congress, but has repeatedly been at loggerheads with the government over its free market policies. The trade federation claims those policies has cost the country hundreds of thousands of jobs since the first all-race elections brought democracy in 1994.

An estimated one-third of South Africa’s potential work force have no jobs.

The trade federation is demanding that employers pay one month’s salary for each year of service to laid-off workers, that bankruptcy laws be amended so workers get top priority in claiming the money they are owed in back wages and that tariffs be reduced only as fast as required by international agreements and no faster.

The group, which includes municipal, transport, agricultural, educational, catering and chemical workers, has warned that more strikes are possible if its demands are not met.

``Those condemning us for raising our voices are calling on us simply to accept this as fate,″ the federation said.

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