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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 June 2007, 02:52 GMT 03:52 UK
Strike escalates in South Africa
South African strikers in Durban
Most schools and hospitals have already been closed for 13 days
Thousands of public sector workers have taken part in peaceful marches across major South African cities as unions stepped up strike action over pay.

Protesters in red T-shirts chanted slogans denouncing the government's handling of the 13-day strike which has seen most schools and hospitals closed.

President Thabo Mbeki has called for an end to intimidation by some strikers.

Negotiations between the unions and the government are in deadlock, complicated by the sacking of 600 health workers.

The unions have refused the government's revised offer of a 7.25% pay rise.

You can't negotiate by the barrel of a gun. A conducive environment needs to be created for progressive talks
Noluthando Mayende Sibiya
Health worker

Workers, who had wanted a 12% increase, say they will not go below 10%.

The head of Cosatu, the country's largest federation of unions, Willie Madisha, hailed the strike as a success.

The BBC's Mpho Lakaje in Johannesburg says thousands of workers in red and yellow T-shirts danced and sang liberation songs through the streets of the South Africa's economic capital.

Police were out in full force and curious onlookers lined the streets, he says.

In Pretoria, an estimated 10,000 people marched to the union buildings, the official home of the president, and in Cape Town workers picketed parliament.

Thabo Mbeki
What kind of society we are building... when insults [and] violence... become the stock-in-trade during protests?
President Thabo Mbeki

In the port city of Durban, protesters were also out in big numbers and those businesses that had opened, shut down fearing violence, local journalist Ncumisa Vandesi told the BBC.

The nearby city of Pietermaritzburg was as empty as a Sunday, she said.

Most taxis, buses and trains services countrywide supported the strike, making it difficult for many private sector workers to get to their offices.

The 43 marches countrywide were reportedly peaceful.

Private schools in Johannesburg have also shut their doors.

There have been reports that some workers are being intimidated into striking. The home of a teacher has been petrol-bombed and pupils have been kicked out of class.

Political battleground

President Mbeki condemned such actions.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Police officers during a workers march earlier this month
These strikes are massively important for the South African working class
Patrick, UK

"All of us should ask ourselves, what kind of society we are building and what moral lessons we are imparting when insults, violence against fellow workers and damage to property become the stock-in-trade during protests of this kind?" Mr Mbeki said.

The government says it is ready to deploy troops to protect those who still want to work.

The sacking of more than 600 striking nurses has not helped negotiations, our Johannesburg reporter says.

The unions say they will not agree to anything until the nurses are reinstated.

Striking workers will have their pay docked, and the threats of sackings have been dismissed by some strikers.

"You can't negotiate by the barrel of a gun," health worker Noluthando Mayende Sibiya told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Cosatu is officially a partner in government, but it has criticised the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for not doing enough to raise living standards of the poor.

The ANC is due to choose a new leader later in the year to succeed President Mbeki, with deputy ANC leader Jacob Zuma as a candidate.

Some analysts feel the strike is really a battleground for the various camps within the ANC ahead the election.


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