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miners shot

Police in South Africa have opened fire during clashes with striking workers at the Marikana platinum mine, leaving at least seven people dead, witnesses say.

South African media reports put the death toll at 12 or even higher.

Police opened fire after miners carrying machetes defied an ultimatum to disarm, reports from the scene say.

The mine, owned by Lonmin, has been at the centre of a violent industrial dispute exacerbated by inter-union tensions.

Ten people had previously died as a result of clashes since the strike began last Friday.

The striking miners had gathered on a rocky hill near Marikana, the third-largest platinum mine in the world.

Some union leaders and police had tried in vain to disperse the crowd, some of whom said they were prepared to die on the hill.

During the clashes, missiles ? thought to be either petrol bombs or grenades ? were thrown at police, who responded by opening fire, eyewitnesses said.

Some reports said a group of miners had approached police lines before the shooting began.

One witness, Molaole Montsho, of the South African news agency Sapa, told the BBC police had first used teargas in an attempt to disperse the miners.

?The police threatened with them water from the water cannon, fired tear gas and stun grenades. And then in the commotion ? we were about 800m (2,600ft) from the scene ? we heard gunshots that lasted for about two minutes,? he said.

He also said he had counted 18 bodies lying on the ground after the gunfire, but could not tell whether they were dead or alive.

The recent violence was initially thought to have been triggered by a turf war between the long-established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the newly-formed Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is more militant.

However, the AMCU has since demanded a pay rise of 12,000 rand ($1,500; ?930) per month.

Lonmin said in a statement on Thursday that the strike was illegal and that any striking workers who did not return to work by Friday would be sacked.

The company said it had missed six days of production as a result of the unrest, and estimated it would lose around 2% of its normal yearly output of saleable platinum. The company?s share price dropped by more than 6% on Thursday on the London Stock Exchange.

Source : BBC

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