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Appeal for calm as police bid to contain anti-immigrant protests in South Africa

Police have used stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon amid a fresh wave of anti-immigrant protests in South Africa.

President Jacob Zuma condemned the anti-foreigner violence and appealed for calm.

A petition the protesters handed to the foreign ministry suggested that the government teach foreigners to speak properly.

"They are arrogant and they don't know how to talk to people especially Nigerians," it said.

Resentment against foreigners has sometimes turned deadly in South Africa amid accusations that they take jobs from locals in a country where unemployment is above 25%. Others are blamed for drug-dealing and other crimes.

In 2015, anti-immigrant riots in and around the city of Durban killed at least six people. In 2008, similar violence killed about 60 people.

Police on Friday tried to keep protesters apart from foreigners who gathered to express alarm about recent attacks. Police Commissioner Khomotso Phalane said 136 people had been arrested in the past 24 hours.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation criticised authorities for "giving permission for a march of hatred".

The periodic backlash against foreigners has hurt the tolerant image South Africa has tried to present to the world after the long struggle to stop the harsh discrimination of white minority rule, which ended in 1994.

South Africans should not blame all crime on non-South Africans, the statement from Mr Zuma's office said. It cited recent reports of violence in Pretoria and hate speech on social media.

"Many citizens of other countries living in South Africa are law abiding and contribute to the economy of the country positively," the president said. "It is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers."

An Amnesty International statement blamed the authorities' "failure to address toxic populist rhetoric that blames and scapegoats refugees and migrants".

Mr Zuma said South Africans are not xenophobic, and he called on everyone, citizens and non-citizens, to work together to combat the country's high crime rate.

Despite South Africa's high unemployment, the country is one of Africa's largest economies and remains a draw for people from far more impoverished nations across the continent.

Businesses run by Somalis, Ethiopians and others are often targeted in anti-foreigner protests.

Amid the anti-immigrant sentiment, government data shows the number of foreign-born people in South Africa has declined. A report last year said the 1.6 million foreign-born people was down from 2.2 million in 2011 - in a country of more than 55 million people.

AP

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