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S. Africa bans foreign reporters from troubled black townships

Foreign journalists have been temporarily banned from South Africa's troubled black townships, as police scramble to put down growing unrest in this white-ruled country.

"At the moment, there is a riotous situation in the country," said police Lt. Col. leon Mellet in justifying the ban.

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At a press conference, Colonel Mellet -- who is head of the South African police directorate of public relations -- indicated all foreign journalists now are prohibited from entering any township where there is unrest.

Only local print journalists approved by the police are to be allowed in such areas, and only under police escort. No television reporters -- either from foreign countries or the government-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation -- are to be permitted into the black townships until further notice , said Colonel Mellet.

The move was due to incitement of blacks by some foreign television reporters , the colonel said. He claimed to have videotapes proving his allegation, but declined to screen them for reporters.

The step comes after widespread unrest in South Africa's black townships, which are home to about 7.5 million people. In recent days, at least 28 people reportedly have been shot by police. Children as young as seven years old have been wounded, and untold numbers have been injured in police baton charges.

However, police spokesmen say calm now is returning to most of the country's black and Colored (mixed race) townships.

Reports of stonings and clashes between police and demonstrators continue to filter in, however, especially from Cape Province.

Police claim they are only acting against people trying to foment unrest here. But Leah Tutu, wife of Bishop Desmond Tutu, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said she was merely watching police chase youths in the huge black township of Soweto, near Johannesburg, when a police officer questioned her, then fired a tear gas canister into her vehicle. Mrs. Tutu was shaken, but uninjured.

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Police also are continuing to detain people without charges.

Among those recently detained are three officials of the predominantly white National Union of South African Students, including national president Andrew Boraine. Mr. Boraine is the son of an opposition parliamentarian, Dr. Alexander Boraine.

The ban on foreign journalists comes after a number of foreign journalists -- including this reporter -- saw police tear-gas and baton- charge students gathered in Soweto. The students retaliated by stoning police vehicles and buses. Police claim the presence of journalists in the area was a key reason behind the unrest.

The 60-member Foreign Correspondents' Association of South Africa has asked the government for proof of its charges. A number of journalists have challenged the police to charge any reporters against whom it has evidence of incitement, but a police spokesman says no prosecutions are contemplated.

The ban is the latest in a number of government restrictions against foreign journalists here.Earlier, police refused to issue identification cards to five foreign reporters -- two American, two French, and one West German -- without explanation. Government officials indicated the refusal of a card means loss of accreditation in South Africa -- a fact hitherto unknown among the foreign press corps here.

However, the journalists involved are all still working in South Africa, while appeals are being considered by the government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign reporters undergo approval by three government departments -- information, immigration, and police -- before being given accreditation here. In addition, they must secure government-issued permits before entering black townships.

But, as Colonel Mellet explained, "It's my understanding that . . . those permits have now been withdrawn."

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