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Violence erupts during South Africa strike

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JOHANNESBURG — A newborn died Thursday as he was being rushed from a rural government clinic shut down by South Africa's civil service strike, an example of the costs of a strike that has hit hospitals, schools and courts across the country.

On the second day of the strike, Mpho Gabane, health department spokesman in the eastern province of Mpumalanga, said the baby's mother had gone to the clinic in labor and experiencing complications, and found no nurses or doctors. The woman in her 20s was being taken by ambulance to another clinic, but gave birth on the way. Gabane blamed the baby's death on the strike.

"We say outright this is related to the strike because had she been attended to earlier the child could have been saved," Gabane told The Associated Press by phone.

The Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, called for the government and workers to come together to end the strike quickly, saying people were suffering. Makgoba also called for hospital staff and other essential workers to return to work immediately.

"How do we look at our society and say, 'let not your hearts be troubled,' when patients needing high levels of care are without proper nursing staff and students are told they must provide for their own education?" the archbishop said in a statement.

Defense Department spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya said army medical staff was deployed to several hospitals around Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal on the east coast Thursday after the health minister, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, requested assistance.

Mabaya said the medical teams are accompanied by soldiers in case of a violent reaction from strikers.

Earlier Thursday teachers in the red T-shirts of their union scattered as police fired to stop them from blocking a stretch of highway during a protest in Johannesburg.

At least one officer was seen being taken from the scene bleeding from the head. Nomusa Cembi, the spokeswoman for the South African Democratic Teacher's Union, said six teachers were wounded.

There was also scattered violence outside some hospitals. Nurses tore down a gate at one Johannesburg hospital and striking workers were keeping their non-striking colleagues and patients from entering hospitals around the country.

Col. Lungelo Dlamini, a police spokesman, said police had no further information on violence associated with the strike.

The indefinite strike was also delaying trials because court stenographers were not at their desks.

Unions are demanding an 8.6 percent wage increase and a 1,000 rand ($137) housing allowance. The government is offering a 7 percent increase plus 700 rands ($96) for housing. In a statement Thursday, the government said it could not afford to offer more.

"It's a choice between improving the wages of state employees and continuing to address the service delivery needs of poor communities and the unemployed," the government said.

South Africa has been hit hard by the global recession, losing 900,000 jobs last year on top of already high unemployment.

The government condemned the scattered violence.

"While the majority of public servants have protested peacefully, the disruption of classes and health facilities is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated," read a government statement. "Those who break the laws must not expect any sympathy from the law enforcement agencies."

Cembi, whose teachers' union is the largest civil service union, told The Associated Press the strikes would continue.

"This will continue until we get the response from government that we need," she said.

Associated Press writer Mia Snyman in Johannesburg contributed to this report.