MARIKANA, SOUTH AFRICA (BNO NEWS) -- Days of violent clashes between labor unions at a mine in South Africa have claimed the lives of at least nine people, including two police officers, platinum producer Lonmin said on Tuesday. Another police officer remains in a critical condition.
The unrest began on Friday morning when some 3,000 rock drill operators launched an illegal strike at Lonmin's West Marikana mine in the North West Province of South Africa, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg. It resulted in violent clashes between members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
At least seven Lonmin employees and two police officers have been killed in the violence, which continued on Monday. "Whilst our first thoughts must be with the families of those killed and injured in these criminal clashes, our operational priority is to see the violence stop," said Lonmin CEO Ian Farmer.
There have been conflicting reports about the nature of the dispute, but South African Police Service (SAPS) provincial spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said the employees went on strike to discuss salary negotiations. "Management was however not prepared to meet with the employees," he said. "It is alleged that the situation became violent when protesters started attacking and assaulting other employees who did not join the strike and had reported for work."
But NUM Secretary General Frans Baleni rejected reports that clashes between labor unions were the cause. "Our members have been attacked and that cannot be said to be clashes or rivalry, it is pure criminality," he said in a statement, reiterating that there have been no clashes between its members and members of a rival union.
Among the nine deaths are two police officers who were killed when they were attacked with machetes. A third police officer was critically injured in the attack, and a police spokesperson said the officer remained in a critical condition on late Tuesday afternoon. Some police officers also had their service rifles taken by attackers.
The Western Platinum mine is operated by London-based Lonmin plc, which registered a $1.9 billion annual revenue in 2011, placing the company as the world's third largest platinum producer.
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