Police fire rubber bullets at striking S. Africa farm workers

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Updated 10 January 2013
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Police fire rubber bullets at striking S. Africa farm workers

DE DOORNS, South Africa: South African police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse striking farm workers in the western fruit belt yesterday amid fears that months of deadly wildcat action will flare-up again.
Police turned to the bullets and tearsmoke to break up the protests as around 3,500 people turned violent in De Doorns, a top grape-growing area outside Cape Town, an AFP correspondent reported.
The unrest flared up across the Western Cape province yesterday, weeks after farm strikes left two dead and vineyards destroyed.
“So far a total of 44 people have been arrested on charges of intimidation and public violence,” said police spokesman Andre Traut.
An officer had been injured, he said. An AFP correspondent saw the man, who was hit by a rock, with a cut on his forehead.
The industrial action follows violent work stoppages in the mining industry late last year which left over 50 people dead, including 34 shot dead by police in one day in scenes reminiscent of apartheid police brutality.
Workers on fruit farms have downed tools, demanding a wage hike from 69 rand ($8) to 150 rand ($17.50) a day.
The protesters had also occupied part of the country’s major N1 highway, forcing dozens of police officers and two armored vehicles to move down the road, pushing the protesters back from the town entrance.
Skirmishes broke out with protesters throwing rocks, moving away and regrouping.
A police helicopter circled the air as gun smoke clouded view and rubber bullet casings littered the ground.
Meanwhile Eyewitness News reported that potestors in Grabouw, around an hour’s drive away, threw rocks and looted shops.
In Wolseley 60 kilometers (37 miles) from De Doorns police also kept protesters from entering the town, but later removed the barriers as the numbers dwindled.
Some protesters carried signs ‘Agri SA julle is apartheid boere’, slamming the main commercial agriculture body as being farmers of apartheid, and ‘150.00’ to push for wage demands.
About 40 percent of laborers in the area went to work, said James Cornelius, the regional secretary of the Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union of South Africa (Bawusa), deploring the low striker turnout.
“There will be less people going to work tomorrow (Thursday),” he said.
Wage negotiations have been complicated because few farm workers are unionized, and talks between individual farms and employees collapsed.
Farmers worry the violence will damage production of especially table grapes and stone fruit, though the potential effect on the wine industry is still uncertain.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said earlier law dictates the basic wage may only be reviewed one year after it was put in place. The current level dates to March last year, meaning the next review can only be two months from now.
But Cornelius vowed stoppages would continue until farmers bow to their wage demands. Talks with farmers continued, he said.



“I think they don’t have a choice because we will strike until we get the 150,” he said, adding that organizers would evaluate their action on Sunday.
Two people died during last year’s unrest which started in De Doorns. Police fired rubber bullets at protesters, who torched vineyards, vehicles and liquor stores. Damage amounted to 150 million rand.
The province provides 55-60 percent of the country’s agricultural exports and employs nearly 200,000 permanent and seasonal workers.


Bosnia swears in a three-man presidency dominated by nationalists

Updated 24 sec ago
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Bosnia swears in a three-man presidency dominated by nationalists

SARAJEVO: Bosnia swore-in its three new presidents on Tuesday, with all eyes on Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik, who will be the first to take the helm of a government riven by ethnic divides.
The three men will rotate seats every eight months under the complex peace deal that ended Bosnia's 1990s war and split power between its three main groups: Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats.
In October voters chose nationalists to represent the first two communities, in a sign of how tribalism continues to shape politics more than two decades after the war.
The three men took their oaths inside Sarajevo's Presidency building before several dozen ambassadors and politicians.
Dodik, a pro-Russian politician who is sanctioned by the US, will co-lead with Bosnian Muslim president Sefik Dzaferovic, who hails from the nationalist conservative SDA party, and Croat president Zeljko Komsic.
Komsic, a Social Democrat, is an outlier among the two nationalists and has called for a "Bosnia of citizens" that would transcend communal divisions.
But he is already facing attacks from the main right-wing Croat party that accuses him of betraying his people and now threatens to obstruct activity in parliament.
"It is currently very difficult to find a common denominator between Dodik, Komsic and Dzaferovic for constructive work," Bosnian political journalist Ranko Mavrak said in a radio interview.
"These three will have to decide whether they want to act as a body that seeks points of agreement or creates problems," he added.
While the Dayton Peace Accords that designed Bosnia's power-sharing arrangement ended a devastating war, critics say the system has entrenched communal divisions and hampered effective governance.
The country's unwieldy government is further complicated by two separate administrations in its highly-autonomous sub-regions: one for Serbs and one shared by Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
Those so-called 'entities' are strung together by weak central institutions.
Dodik's elevation to the top office could mark another blow to the fabric of a country he has previously skewered as a "failed concept."
The firebrand led Bosnia's Serb-run half for over a decade and periodically threatened to hold a referendum on its secession.
Last year the US placed him on a blacklist for undermining the country's peace agreement.
The 59-year-old seemed to soften his tone slightly after he was elected to the national presidency, saying he wants to work with Bosnian Croats and Muslims "in the interest of all."
On Tuesday he repeated his assurance that he did not want to "act to the detriment of anyone" and wished for "effective cooperation".
Political analyst Tanja Topic said the politician appeared to be making a "conciliatory gesture," though "it is still difficult to say whether Dodik will be constructive and whether he will work in the interest of the state."
A day earlier Dodik had repeated his demands to undo parts of the Dayton Peace Accords, including shutting down the office of the High Representative -- an international envoy that has been sent by the UN since 1995 to oversee the peace deal.
"My policy is not changing, it's just my workplace that's changing," he said on Monday.
Among ordinary Bosnians, there is little hope for major changes in a paralysed political system that has allowed corruption to flourish and stalled economic reforms for years.
Unemployment affects up to one third of the country, where large numbers are migrating abroad for work.
"There's nothing more to expect here," said Almir Korjenic, a 32-year-old applying for a work visa at the Slovenian embassy, summing up a widespread sense of political fatigue.
"(The politicians) fought each other before the elections to position themselves well after the elections and resume looting the country," he said.