JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Police fired birdshot and tear gas today to break up a crowd of about 5,000 mourners at a funeral for riot victims, forcing pallbearers to drop all four coffins on the street and flee, witnesses said.
At least one coffin was damaged and left partially open in the clash in Khuma township near Stilfontein, about 90 miles west of Johannesburg, reporters at the scene said. The four victims were shot by police in rioting three weeks ago in Khuma.
Police had ordered that no more than 100 people attend the service, 25 from each of the victims' families. The coffins also were to be transported from the funeral to the cemetery in hearses, not carried by the mourners as often happens at funerals for blacks killed by police in anti-apartheid rioting.
Police charged and broke up the crowd when the chanting mourners started carrying the coffins in defiance of the ban, the witnesses said. Several people appeared to have been injured in the stampede, they said.
Meanwhile, about 1,200 black miners at the Blyvooruitzicht gold mine ended a 36-hour underground sit-in, the company said, in which workers pressed demands for bonus pay. The mine, west of Johannesburg, remained temporarily closed.