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Police fired on an angry crowd Saturday, killing three people, minutes after the mob forced President F.W. de Klerk to cut short a visit to a black township where dozens died in a massacre last week.

De Klerk hinted later that the government might try to stop the violence by taking steps to impose law and order.Arriving in Boipatong, south of Johannesburg, de Klerk was met by about 1,000 people, some of whom pounded on his car and shouted, "Get the hell out of here!"

Several young men screamed, "We want to kill de Klerk!"

De Klerk's convoy quickly departed, and the president never left his car.

"I didn't come because I wanted a warm reception," de Klerk said later. "The shock of what happened this week made me come here."

The massacre in the township on Wednesday night left 39 people dead and was one of the bloodiest attacks in eight years of fighting that has claimed 12,000 black lives.

Residents and the African National Congress said police brought Zulu supporters of the rival Inkatha Freedom Party from a nearby workers hostel to carry out the killings. The police and Inkatha deny that.

The ANC has long accused police of instigating township violence and helping Inkatha in a bid to destabilize the black opposition movement. The government blames a power struggle between the ANC and Inkatha for much of the violence.

De Klerk said the escalating violence might force him to "look beyond the present measures to maintain law and order."

Asked if he might return to a state of emergency, imposed nationwide from 1986 to 1990, he said: "There are various possibilities. It would be a very sad day if we are forced to go back to that."

Relations between the white government and the ANC are at their lowest point in months because of the chronic political violence and a stalemate in negotiations on abolishing apartheid. Last week, the ANC launched a campaign of nationwide protests against continued white minority rule.

"The recent plans of the ANC militate against the spirit of negotiation," de Klerk said Saturday. "It clearly puts a strain on relations."

The ANC called de Klerk's visit to the township a "cynical public relations exercise." It called for the government to set up a relief fund for victims of the massacre, fire local police commanders and investigate the matter thoroughly.

"We demand action, not de Klerk's crocodile tears," it said.

De Klerk had flown by helicopter to a police base for a briefing before entering Boipatong. The crowd rushed the convoy but was held back. Residents taunted police, and some threw rocks at the armored vehicles.

It was the roughest reception ever given de Klerk in one of his rare visits to black townships. In general, such visits have been well received.

After de Klerk left, residents continued to taunt police and waved fists in their faces. Police shot one man to death, and an argument ensued when officers tried to remove the body.

One resident grabbed a policeman's rifle, and the officer shot into the ground. Moments later, a line of policemen with assault rifles fired on residents, killing two more and injuring about 15, according to witnesses.

Police spokesman Col. Dave Bruce said police opened fire with rubber bullets and birdshot after coming under attack by residents throwing stones and firing guns.

Police confirmed only one death, but government-run South African Broadcasting Corp. put the toll at three, in line with the witnesses.

De Klerk said afterward there had been no evidence of police involvement in last week's massacre.

"Police have been on the receiving end and have acted with great restraint," he said. "This morning you saw acts of provocation."