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Police ordered "Cry Freedom," a film about black activist Steven Biko, seized Friday from theaters across the country hours after the government gave permission for it to be shown.

Police Commissioner Hendrik de Witt issued the order in the evening under state of emergency regulations. The order came less than nine hours after the Publication Appeals Board, the government's censorship body, announced the film could be shown." `Cry Freedom' endangers the safety of the public, the maintenance of public order and will delay the termination of the (25-month) state of emergency," de Witt said in a statement. He said the film contained "propagandistic elements" likely to encourage unrest and was biased against police.

Thirty theaters began showing the movie this morning, a half hour after permission was granted. The first showing at a downtown Johannesburg cinema attracted about 200 viewers, white and black, to a 350-seat theater.

Blacks in the audience cried and sang along with the soundtrack at various emotional scenes during the film. Several left the theater in tears.

Moviegoers said police began arriving at theaters in the evening with orders to confiscate the film.

The Publications Appeals Board ruled that the film, about the friendship between Biko and white journalist Donald Woods, could be shown uncut to viewers at least 19 years old. Later, the Justice Ministry noted that it had not given permission to quote Woods, as actor Kevin Kline does in the film, because of Woods' banned status under national law.

There were explosions at two theaters where the film was to be shown, police said. There were no injuries at either of the theaters, the Kings Cinema in the Alexandra township outside Johannesburg and the Metro theater in downtown Durban, authorities said. Police reported bomb threats at theaters in Durban, Pretoria, and Port Elizabeth.

"Cry Freedom" had been scheduled to open Friday after government censors last November approved showing it without cuts or age restrictions. But Home Affairs Minister Stoffel Botha on Monday ordered the board to reconsider. He did not give a reason.

The movie, directed by Richard Attenborough and filmed in neighboring Zimbabwe, stars Denzel Washington as Biko and Kline as Woods. Biko died in 1977 in police custody after founding and promoting the black consciousness movement in South Africa.

Kobus van Rooyen, head of the censorship board, called the film a "mediocre product" that had "obvious bias against the (South African) police." But he added: "The board came to the conclusion that the film does not present a risk to race relations or to the security of the state."

The film, released last year by Attenborough and United International Pictures, was nominated for three Academy Awards by failed to win any.