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News Wrap: South African Police Fire On Miners During Labor Strikes

August 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Nearly a week of labor violence in South Africa turned even deadlier today, as police fired on striking platinum miners. There were unconfirmed accounts of as many as 18 people killed.

We have a report narrated by Saima Mohsin of Independent Television News.

A warning: Some of the scenes may be disturbing.

SAIMA MOHSIN: Police had come to the protest prepared, armed with handguns and automatic weapons. As a group of demonstrators moved towards the police lines, tear gas was fired. Then, seconds later, protesters charged, and the police opened fire.

MAN: Cease fire!

MAN: Cease fire!

MAN: Cease fire!

SAIMA MOHSIN: As the firing stopped and dust started to clear, we can see dozens of men lying on the ground, some injured, others motionless.

One officer moves forward. He picks up a pistol lying close to one of the casualties, evidence, perhaps, that the protesters too were armed. There’s been a week of increasingly violent protests at Lonmin mine in Marikana — 3,000 workers walked out en masse last Friday.

MAN (through translator): We work hard the machines we use, but we can’t afford to send our kids to school. All we want is money. Even though they have sent these police here, there’s no point, because we’re not fighting against anyone. All we want is money.

SAIMA MOHSIN: When some miners tried to go back to work on Saturday, they were attacked by strikers. Things turned uglier on Sunday. Two security guards were dragged from their cars and hacked to death.

And the killing spree continued since then. At the beginning of the week, mobs of men armed with sticks and machetes killed two other workers and overpowered police, killing two officers. That was the first time police officers opened fire. They killed three miners. On Tuesday, the body of a man bludgeoned to death was found, taking the number of people killed to 10.

MAN: Rubber bullets and live ammunition.

SAIMA MOHSIN: The shocking scenes of police firing on demonstrators to some will be a disturbing echo of the political violence and turmoil of South Africa’s apartheid past.

HARI SREENIVASAN: South Africa has 80 percent of the world’s known reserves of platinum. But the country’s mines have seen eight months of unrest, as two unions struggle for dominance.

Officials in northeast Congo now confirm at least 60 gold miners died Monday in a landslide at their mine. They were about 100 yards below the surface at the time. Rescue efforts were hampered because the jungle surrounding the mine is controlled by a militia.

Seven American troops were killed today when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. That made July the deadliest month this year for U.S. forces deployed there, with more than 40 killed. The helicopter went down in the Kandahar province in the south. Three Afghan soldiers and a civilian interpreter also died. The Taliban claimed it shot down the chopper. NATO said the cause was still under investigation.

Taliban fighters in neighboring Pakistan blasted their way into an air force base today, touching off a two-hour battle. All nine attackers and one security official were killed. The air base has possible ties to Pakistan’s nuclear program. Elsewhere, 20 Shiites were killed by gunmen in northern Pakistan.

In Iraq, at least two dozen people died in a wave of bombings. Three of the attacks were in Kirkuk and came in close succession. Mangled metal lined the streets of a restaurant district after a parked car exploded there. In all, more than 120 Iraqis have died in violence this month.

The U.N. Security Council will allow an observer mission to Syria to expire on Sunday in favor of a new civilian office there. Today’s decision acknowledged that the observers have been largely confined to their Damascus hotel as the civil war escalates. Meanwhile, thousands of Syrians are crossing into neighboring countries to escape the fighting.

And in Damascus, the U.N. humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, said the relief problem inside Syria is mushrooming.

VALERIE AMOS, United Nations: Back in March, we estimated that a million people were in need of help. Now as many as 2.5 million are in need of assistance. And we are working to update our plans and our funding requirements.

Over the last two days, I have visited displaced people in Damascus and in al-Nabak. The families I met are tired, anxious, and many have no prospect of going home any time soon.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Amos also appealed to the world to help. A request in March for $180 million in assistance is only 40 percent funded so far.

The drought across much of the U.S. has eased slightly in some places, but it’s still getting worse in others. This week’s government survey found conditions improved just a bit in Iowa and Illinois after rain last week. But, in Nebraska and Kansas, the amount of acreage in exceptional drought rose sharply.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney insisted today that he has paid taxes every year in the last decade at a rate of at least 13 percent. But he declined again to make public his returns from years before 2010.

Instead, he said there are more important things to talk about.

MITT ROMNEY (R): Given the challenges that Americans faces, 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty, the fascination with taxes I have paid I find to be very small-minded, compared to the broad issues that we face. But I did go back and look at my taxes, and over the past 10 years, I never paid less than 13 percent.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, has charged that Romney paid no taxes in some years. Romney said today that’s totally false.

Baby boomers are being urged to get tested for the hepatitis C virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the one-time blood test today for all Americans born between 1945 and 1965. They account for some two-thirds of the three million Americans who have the virus. Hepatitis C is most often spread through shared drug needles or during blood transfusions. It kills more than 15,000 Americans every year.

Wall Street took heart today from a jump in building permits in July and some upbeat corporate earnings. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 85 points to close at 13,250. The Nasdaq rose 31 points to close at 3,062.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.