Page last updated at 18:52 GMT, Sunday, 18 May 2008 19:52 UK

Violence spreads in Johannesburg

Scenes of violence on the streets of 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.

Mozambican national receives treatment after being attacked in Johannesburg

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

A foreigner (centre) boards a police van on 18 May, 2008 to be escorted safely out of Jeppestown in Johannesburg
Foreigners have been trying to flee the violence

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.

A man runs from South African police as they take up positions in the Diepsloot township north of Johannesburg 15 May 2008
Police have been trying to restore order in Diepsloot township

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.

In pictures: Johannesburg violence
18 May 08 |  In Pictures
In pictures: S Africa's xenophobia
16 May 08 |  In Pictures

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