Page last updated at 20:58 GMT, Sunday, 25 May 2008 21:58 UK

SA's Mbeki says riots a disgrace

Demonstrators take part in a march in downtown Johannesburg
Xenophobic violence has spread across South Africa

South African President Thabo Mbeki has condemned a wave of attacks on foreigners as an "absolute disgrace" that has blemished the country's name.

In a national radio and television address, he said the attacks were the worst acts of inhumanity South Africa had seen since the end of Apartheid.

At least 50 people died and 25,000 fled their homes during the violence.

Jacob Zuma, leader of the governing party, urged an end to attacks, on a visit to a Johannesburg township.

The African National Congress (ANC) leader told a crowd of thousands in Springs township that violence would not solve problems of crime, poverty and unemployment, but make them worse.

President Mbeki has been criticised for his handling of the crisis, including a response which some have seen as slow.

The BBC's Will Ross in Johannesburg says some in South Africa wonder why it took him two weeks to make this address to the nation.

'Failed policies'

Mr Mbeki said everything possible would be done to bring the perpetrators to justice, and warned that the country risked being taken back to a past of violent conflict which no-one could afford.

Immigrants carry belongings as they leave an informal refugee camp in Primrose, Johannesburg, 22 May 2008
Total population: 49m
Foreign population: 3-5m
Majority from Zimbabwe, also Mozambique, Nigeria
Unemployment rate: 30%

"This criminal violence has besmirched the image of South Africa," he said.

He also pointed to the role of citizens other African countries in the struggle against apartheid and in building South Africa's economy.

Earlier, he promised to create an investigating committee to look into the attacks.

One government critic, Moeletsi Mbeki - the president's own brother - has said the government is unwilling to admit that the violence is the result of the failure of its own foreign and immigration policies.

Our correspondent says there is a great deal of xenophobia in South Africa and foreigners are often accused of taking away people's jobs and fuelling crime.

But despite this perception, he adds, most South Africans have been utterly appalled by the violence.

The troubles flared with a wave of attacks on foreigners in the township of Alexandra, within sight of some of Johannesburg's most expensive suburbs.

They have since spread to seven of South Africa's nine provinces.

On Sunday police said 50 people were now believed to have been killed since the troubles began.

Meanwhile, a Cape Town spokesman said at least 10,000 immigrants had fled to makeshift camps outside the south-western city alone.

In Johannesburg, the ANC said delegations from the party's national executive committee were fanning out to community halls and stadia across the city in what it called a "programme of engagement" to stem the tide of violence.

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