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New S. Africa laws put reform on hold

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South Africa's ``emergency'' crackdown has ignited fierce debate here over whether it is working -- and placed on hold moves to bring blacks into negotiatied ``power sharing'' with the ruling white minority. Over the weekend, the government began laying the groundwork for possible repeal of the 11-day-old national emergency proclamation. But it did so by passing two new security laws allowing imposition of identical powers in any place declared an ``unrest area'' by the minister of law and order. The legislation also allows police to arrest and jail people without charge for up to six months.

The manner in which the new legislation was passed -- through the President's Council, not Parliament -- reflected the government's current emphasis on quelling unrest rather than pushing political reform. The security bills had been blocked by mixed-race and Asian South Africans, in separate parliamentary chambers created in 1984 under a pilot power-sharing arrangement with nonwhites. The council, on which President P.W. Botha commands an unassailable majority, was created at the same time, and has the power to pass legislation in cases of deadlock.

Mr. Botha's pre-emergency offers of ``power-sharing'' with the country's 22-million-strong black majority -- excluded from the 1984 reform -- focused on creation of a second presidential council, for blacks. He said this would give them input into revision of South Africa's political system to allow a say for all races.

But most black leaders rejected the idea. They argued, among other things, that the existing three-chamber Parliament and President's Council retained ultimate power for whites. Opposition politicians were quick to argue that Botha risked proving precisely that, by using the council to approve security bills opposed by the nonwhite houses.

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