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South African Police break up anti-immigration protests, arrests 136 persons; as Jacob Zuma condemns violence against foreigners

South African police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse rival marches by hundreds of protesters in Pretoria on Friday, after mobs looted stores this week believed to belong to immigrants.

Armed police had formed a barrier between rival crowds of citizens and non-nationals marching in Pretoria, but both sides began shouting at one another and brandishing rocks and sticks, prompting police to disperse the angry mobs.

Shops were shuttered in Marabastad, an area of western Pretoria where many foreign nationals have their stores, and roads were blocked as the marchers gathered. Some of the foreigners carried rocks and sticks, saying they were ready to protect their stores..

The South African Police arrested 136 persons in connection with involvement in the enophobic attacks on immigrants and non-nations in Pretoria.

The arrests followed a fresh wave of attacks in Gauteng Province said to have been heightened by anti-immigrants protests in pretoria.

National Police Commissioner said Kgomotso Phahlane said police has stepped in and the situation in Pretoria is now calm and under control.

He said “136 people have been arrested over 24 hours but we are unable to confirm how many of those arrested are South Africans and how many aren’t.

He added, “We cannot allow situation to be overwhelmed by crowd. we use proportional force”.

One Somali shop owner, 37, said he feared for his life. “My shops get looted a few times a year,” he said

Meanwhile, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has condemned acts of violence between citizens and non-nationals, his office said on Friday.

Anti-immigrant violence has flared sporadically in South Africa against a background of near-record unemployment, with foreigners being accused of taking jobs from citizens and getting involved in crime.

Citizens in Pretoria are set to march against foreigners on Friday and domestic media are reporting vandalism and acts of violence in the Atteridgeville area west of the capital.

At least 20 stores in Pretoria owned by foreigners were looted on Tuesday, but police could not confirm that the attacks had deliberately targeted foreigners. “Many citizens of other countries living in South Africa are law abiding and contribute to the economy of the country positively. It is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers” Zuma said in a statement.

 “The threats and counter-threats on social media must stop,” he added.

In Nigeria, protesters on Thursday demanded that South African citizens and businesses leave the country and vandalized the head office of mobile phone giant MTN in Abuja, in retaliation for anti-Nigerian violence in South Africa.

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