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Violence spreads in Johannesburg

At least 12 people have been killed in the South African city of Johannesburg since Friday in a wave of violence directed at immigrants, police say.

Police have used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to stop gangs of armed youths from attacking foreigners and looting and burning their property.

Five people were killed overnight in the area of Cleveland. Two of them were burned and the others beaten to death.

More than 50 were taken to hospitals with gunshot and stab wounds.

During the day, a church where about 1,000 Zimbabweans have been taking refuge was attacked.

Bishop Paul Veryn of the Central Methodist Church which was attacked told SABC radio: "We consider that the situation is getting so serious that the police can no longer control it."

As night fell, immigrants were streaming into one police station near downtown Johannesburg carrying whatever belongings they could, reports Caroline Hawley.

Many now fear for their lives, she reports. One Zimbabwean woman told the BBC she would flee back home rather than risk losing her two children to the mobs.

Social problems

The trouble began a week ago in the sprawling township of Alexandra. Immigrants from neighbouring African countries were set upon by men with guns and iron bars chanting "kick the foreigners out".

Terrified Zimbabweans, Mozambicans and Malawians fled to the safety of the local police station and to another township, Diepsloot.

They were then attacked there as well - shacks were burnt down and shops looted. The violence has since spread to other areas
Since the end of apartheid, millions of African immigrants have poured into South Africa seeking jobs and sanctuary. But they have become scapegoats for many of the country's social problems - its high rate of unemployment, a shortage of housing and one of the worst levels of crime in the world.

The South African Red Cross is now providing food and blankets to hundreds of frightened immigrants forced from their homes.

President Thabo Mbeki said he would set up a panel of experts to investigate the violence.

The leader of the governing African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, condemned the attacks.

"We cannot allow South Africa to be famous for xenophobia," he told a conference in Pretoria


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Added: May-18-2008 
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