Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 12:38 UK

Army may tackle S Africa attacks

Arrest made near Johannesburg
Police say they have made almost 300 arrests

South African security ministers have been discussing using the army to help stop a wave of attacks on foreigners, which has left at least 23 people dead.

The deployment of troops, which has been demanded by human rights groups and the opposition, could not be ruled out, said a top ruling party official.

The violence has spread to four new areas near Johannesburg, while 13,000 have reportedly fled their homes.

President Thabo Mbeki has condemned the "shameful and criminal" violence.

Mobs of South Africans have been roaming townships, looking for foreigners, many of whom have sought refuge in police stations, churches and community halls.

What kind of nation are we building - one which rejoices at someone who is burning, who is engulfed by flames?
Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa

There are believed to be between three and five million foreigners living in South Africa - most are Zimbabweans fleeing poverty and violence at home.

The attacks have spread to new areas in the Ekurhuleni region around Johannesburg, local official Zweli Dlamini told the BBC.

In the latest attacks, two people, believed to be miners from Mozambique, were beaten to death, reports South Africa's Independent Online website.

There have also been reports of attacks on South Africans from other parts of the country.

Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has promised that no illegal migrants would be deported during the attacks.

Her husband, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, promised that those who had fled their homes would be given adequate shelter.

Attacks 'orchestrated'

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said that if the army was deployed, it would be to back up the police.

Police reinforcements have already been sent to the affected areas and President Mbeki said they would get "to the root of the anarchy".

On Monday, a coalition of human rights groups, called the attacks a "national emergency" and urged the government to "consider whether deployment of the military is not necessary at this stage".

The police say they have made another 40 arrests overnight, on top of the 250 in recent days.


Mobs of South Africans roam townships

Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa said the police would make the decision on whether it was necessary to call in the army.

"The situation is dire and we must intervene and intervene forcefully," he said in a debate in the Gauteng legislature.

"What kind of nation are we building - one which rejoices at someone who is burning, who is engulfed by flames?" he asked in reference to a shocking photograph used on the front pages of several newspapers on Monday.

Mr Mantashe also said the ANC had held talks with the mainly Zulu opposition Inkatha Freedom Party and noted that most of the flashpoints had been in areas where the IFP had a presence.

Mozambican national receives treatment after being attacked in Johannesburg
Foreign population: 3-5m
Majority from Zimbabwe, also Mozambique, Nigeria
Total population: 49m
Unemployment rate: 30%

The IFP has denied any links to the violence.

Bishop Paul Veryn, who runs the Central Methodist Church, where many foreigners have sought shelter and which was attacked over the weekend, said the attacks were "clearly orchestrated".

He told the BBC's Network Africa programme that the mobs appeared to know exactly where foreigners lived.

"That information would not be accessible if they did not have access to councillors, to people in authority."

He also blamed the poverty and massive inequality of wealth in South Africa for the violence.

Some South Africans say foreigners are taking jobs from locals and contributing to crime.

Up to three million Zimbabweans are thought to be in South Africa, having fled violence and poverty at home.

Some Zimbabweans say they will go home, despite the political violence there, rather than face attacks in South Africa.

"If we go back into the streets, they're going to kill us there," one Zimbabwean man seeking sanctuary in a police station told the BBC.

But Mr Mbeki urged South Africans to welcome refugees.

"Citizens from other countries on the African continent and beyond are as human as we are and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity."

The attacks on foreigners began a week ago in the township of Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, before spreading to the city centre and across the Gauteng region.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific