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Tuesday, February 23, 1999 Published at 17:52 GMT

World: Africa

Referee accused of shooting player

A South African football referee has pleaded not guilty to shooting dead a player during a match in front of 600 spectators.

Referee Lebogang Petrus Mokgethi, 34, was released on bail after a court appearance on Tuesday, when he denied causing the death of the local football captain, Isaac Mkhwetha.

But police say he opened fire when the Wallabies player lunged at him with a knife after a disputed goal.

Police Captain Louis Jacobs said the incident began when the Try Agains, another local team, scored against the Wallabies.

Wallabies fans ran onto the field to protest at the goal, which had cut their lead to 2-1, according to police.

It was unclear why the goal was disputed, but betting on the game had been heavy, and the two men apparently fetched the weapons during this interruption.

Mr Mokgethi had left his licensed 9mm pistol with a friend among the spectators during the game, police said.

The shooting, which happened at a stadium in Hartbeesfontein, a black township 200km southwest of Johannesburg, was the first time in memory in South Africa that a dispute among players or officials during a game has resulted in a killing.

But Wallabies Manager Issac Mahlapsi said: "It is easy for players and referees to get hurt during games in this area."

The fatally-wounded Isaac Mkhwetha, 20, was a star player and had the qualities to become a professional player, according to his manager.

Lebogang Petrus Mokgethi's trial has been set for April.

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