Nine in court in South Africa after bloody gunbattle

JOHANNESBURG, June 27, 2006 (AFP) – Nine men arrested after a shootout left four policemen and eight armed robbers dead in a central Johannesburg suburb over the weekend briefly appeared in a South African court on Tuesday.

Eleven men were arrested in Jeppestown, near the city centre on Sunday when police stormed the hideout of a gang of robbers and a heavy shootout followed in which eight robbers and four officers were killed.

The men, who by law must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest, will next appear in the Roodepoort Magistrate’s Court on July 27.

Three suspected robbers were still in hospital after being wounded in the gunfight and will appear in the same court at a later date.

Magistrate Delize Smith ordered that no names, addresses, identifiable photographs or video footage of the men be published in the media.

Prosecutor Mardie Human asked for the order because the investigation was still underway.

"It might jeopardise the investigations," she was quoted by the local SAPA news agency as saying.

The men, who arrived at court amid a heavy police presence, face provisional charges of armed robbery and attempted murder.

Murder charges are to follow.

The nine were shackled at their ankles and cuffed at the wrists, and they listened intently as three interpreters, one in Portuguese, explained that they faced charges that could lead to life sentences and that they had the right to a lawyer.

Some 10 armed policemen locked the doors and stood directly behind the accused during the proceedings. The court was also cleared of spectators.

Plain-clothed police and prison officials were also present.

The shootout has fanned an ongoing debate in the country about the level of violent crime.

Despite police reporting a drop in murders and attempted murders in South Africa last year, crime remained at unacceptably high levels since the country’s transition to democracy in 1994.

Statistics released in September last year said 18,793 murders were reported in the country of 46 million for 2004/2005, indicating a drop of 5.2 percent on the previous year.