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Clashes after South Africa cops raid miners' hostels to seize weapons

Themba Hadebe / AP

Police officers round up a group of men as they patrol the area near the Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, Saturday.

MARIKANA, South Africa -- South African police on Saturday fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse miners rallying in Marikana after raids on their hostels to seize arms, witnesses said. 

About 500 police officers raided the hostels at Lonmin's Karee platinum mine near Marikana -- scene of the killing of 34 miners by police last month -- in the early morning and seized machetes, spears and other weapons, police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said 

Saturday's incident was the latest in five weeks of labor unrest that has choked off platinum production in the world's top producer of the precious metal. 

It broke out as Lonmin increased its pay offer to striking miners, although the revised figure was still short of the 12,500 rand ($1,500) that they demand. An earlier offer on Friday was rejected. 

Themba Hadebe / AP

Police arrive as residents burn tires in Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, Saturday.

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Police arrested five people in the raids on the hostels, home to about 6,000 miners, but for drugs offences not weapons, Ngubane said. 

"The aim of the raid was to disarm the mine workers to make sure that we do away with the elements of threats that are taking their toll in the area of Marikana," Ngubane said. 

Miners later gathered at a field in Marikana, about 60 miles northwest of Johannesburg, and police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them, a Reuters journalist at the scene said. 

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In Marikana last month police shot 34 striking miners dead in a single day, the bloodiest police action in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. A total of 44 people have been killed in the unrest. 

The "Marikana massacre" has poisoned industrial relations in South Africa and drawn criticism that President Jacob Zuma and the ruling ANC have been too slow in dealing with the widening crisis. 

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The mine shootings have also made it hard for the police to use force to break up of strikers, most of whom are armed with sticks, spears and machetes. 

The government said on Friday it would crack down on illegal gatherings and the carrying of weapons. 

Led by the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), the strikes have threatened the long dominance of the National Union of Mineworkers, which is in an alliance with the ruling African National Congress. 

The strikers say that the ANC and big unions have forgotten the needs of South Africa's millions of poor. 

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