PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) _ Police said Wednesday that five people have been shot to death in three days of looting, burning and battles between police and mobs in mixed-race suburbs of Port Elizabeth.

Police headquarters in Pretoria said four of the dead were shot by officers.

Police roamed the northern suburbs in armored vehicles, firing birdshot and tear gas at stone-throwing groups Wednesday, said a journalist.

The violence began Monday and spread to numerous suburbs of the eastern port city.

Members of the Northern Areas Action Committee said police fired tear gas at them as they left a meeting Monday. Police said they fired tear gas, stun grenades, birdshot, and finally pistols after crowds repeatedly attacked a police bus Monday night.

The Northern Areas Action Committee is allied with the African National Congress, but there was no evidence either organization was controlling the crowds.

Journalists said much of the mob violence was directed at people connected with the local council structures set up by the white-run provincial government. The Evening Post newspaper quoted an unidentified ANC member as saying the violence would stop when the local government management committee resigned.

Police and officials of the Northern Areas Action Committee and the ANC said the mobs were running wild.

''It is out of control to a great extent, but we are trying our hardest to keep our people disciplined,'' said Ronald Niegaardt, chairman of the Northern Areas Action Committee. ''Some criminal elements have become involved and they are looting all over the place for their own benefit.''

The journalist, who did not want to be identified, described the scene Wednesday: ''They are looting, they are stoning police, they are putting up roadblocks, using tires and refuse. There are lots of onblookers standing by and the police are riding around in Casspirs (armored vehicles). They are shooting with birdshot and tear gas.

''From the air you can see fires in quite a few places. A large number of shops have been broken into and the goods looted,'' said the journalist.

Cliff Foster, a reporter for the Newscape news agency, said, ''The northern areas are cut off from the outside world by burning barricades erected at all entrance and exit routes as police and mobs continued to battle in the street.''

Barricades and stonethrowers kept ambulances from entering the suburbs. They circled the perimeters, picking up wounded when notified by police, but there was no estimate of how many people had been injured.

Pupils and teachers were unable to get to schools, and most people were prevented from getting to work.