The Witness/Sapa, 18 May 2008

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President Thabo Mbeki announced yesterday that a panel has been set up to look into xenophobic attacks. Twelve people have been murdered this weekend in xenophobic attacks sweeping Gauteng, police said. Police spokesman Govindsamy Mariemuthoo said 11 people were killed across the East Rand and one in Alexandra. The violence spread to Hillbrow, Jeppe, Cleveland and central Johannesburg over the weekend and 200 people have been arrested for offences ranging from rape to robbery and public violence. The Red Cross said they have recorded at least 3 000 people across Gauteng who are now destitute. Spokesman Freedom Ngubeni said most of the foreigners are "scared and terrified". Speaking at San Lameer after a meeting of the International Investment Council, Mbeki said it is important for police to act firmly. "We hope that the panel and the police will work together and help us answer who is behind this." People cannot be allowed to go around beating up other people, Mbeki said. Speaking in Pretoria, ANC president Jacob Zuma also condemned the attacks on foreigners. "We cannot allow South Africa to be famous for xenophobia," he said. After a visit to central Johannesburg yesterday, Gauteng DA leader Jack Bloom warned that the situation there is "unsettled". "There were clashes at the Central Methodist Church, where many Zimbabweans have taken shelter," he said. In Hillbrow, there was a heavy police presence after residents pounced on foreigners selling goods on the streets, Mariemuthoo said. Police spokeswoman Captain Cheryl Engelbrecht said violence started at about 1 am in the Cleveland informal settlement, on the railway route to the East Rand. "Two people were burnt and three people were beaten to death. "Fifty others were taken to various hospitals for gunshot and stab wounds." Engelbrecht said that about 300 people are seeking refuge at the Cleveland police station. The violent attacks on foreigners started in Alexandra last weekend and by Saturday spread to Diepsloot, Thokoza and Tembisa. Bloom said: "This clearly has the potential to get out of hand". He said police need to act decisively against law breakers, "but we also need to see a proper plan by the provincial government to rectify underlying grievances".