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South Africans March Against Anti-Foreigner Attacks

South Africans in several cities around the country held marches Friday to protest recent attacks by their countrymen against foreigners. The marches came as government officials studied measures to deal with the tens of thousands of people displaced by the violence. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

South African citizens marched in the country's major cities to protest the violence against foreigners in the past three weeks.

In addition, youth wings of the country's three largest political parties announced a campaign against anti-foreigner hatred and urged the government to arrest and prosecute countrymen who engaged in such acts.

More than 50 foreigners were killed and hundreds wounded in attacks that began in Johannesburg and spread to other parts of the country. Attackers accused foreigners of taking jobs and public housing from South Africans but authorities said the motive was mainly criminal.

Relief agencies say some 30,000 victims have taken refuge in police stations and community centers while tens of thousands more have left the country.

The government responded by ordering the army to help police quell the violence. Armed Forces Chief Lieutenant General Solly Shoke told reporters that the operations had been largely successful and the violence had subsided.

"We condemn this type of behavior with a contempt that it deservers," said Shoke. "We pledge ourselves that we will support the police in their endeavor to quell that situation."

He added that the military had donated 200 tents to the displaced. Relief groups are also pressing to provide food, clothing and better shelter to the victims who face increasingly harsh conditions as winter begins in the southern hemisphere.

South African officials have condemned the violence and have apologized but the government has yet to announce a policy on dealing with the plight of the victims.

Government spokesman Thembo Maseko told reporters Thursday the government had discarded a proposal to group the displaced in large centers.

"Many of the foreign nationals have jobs, have families, have kids going to school," he said. "So to uproot them from particular communities and put them in a refugee camp is something that government does not prefer at this particular time."

Relief groups say grouping displaced in large centers would create administrative and security challenges and possibly aggravate the social problems already being experienced by the victims.

As a result, many say the displaced should either return home, as thousands have already done, or be re-integrated into local communities. But they acknowledge that re-integration will be slow.

Many victims say they are traumatized by the violence and are fearful of their former neighbors. Some say they want to be placed under the care of the United Nations but U.N. officials say this is the responsibility of the South African government.