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Police withdrew from street battle with vendors to avoid 'bloodbath' in Joburg CBD

A riot broke out in Jo’burg CBD when police confiscated counterfeit goods from street vendors. Officers fired rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse the crowd. In retaliation, protestors pelted officers with bricks and bottles. Provincial police say officers ‘tactically withdrew’ from the operation to avoid being forced to use live ammunition.

The street battle between police and enraged street vendors in the Johannesburg CBD  could have ended in a "bloodbath", police said on Friday.

Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said officers "tactically withdrew" from the intelligence-driven operation targeting counterfeit goods in downtown Johannesburg on Thursday to avoid being forced to use live ammunition.

This after a violent crowd of street vendors pelted officers and armoured vehicles with bottles, bricks and petrol bombs in retaliation for the raids.

"Due to the volatility of the situation, police retreated to avoid a situation where they would be forced to use live ammunition," Peters said in a statement.

"Of priority at this point was ensuring that there was no bloodshed or death."

She said no officers were injured, but two people and one paramedic sustained serious injuries.

Provincial police commissioner Lt-Gen Elias Mawela said such "lawlessness cannot be allowed to go unpunished".

Gauteng community safety MEC Faith Mazibuko condemned the attack on law enforcement.

"We can’t co-govern with criminals, especially foreign nationals who want to turn our country into a lawless banana republic.

"We will assert our authority and show ungovernable foreign nationals that there are laws in South Africa and they must be respected," Mazibuko said.

Gauteng premier David Makhura promised to come down hard on foreigners who attacked police officers.

Taking to Twitter on Thursday night, Makhura said: "Some foreign nationals who sell counterfeit goods and occupy buildings illegally in the Joburg CBD attacked our police with bottles and petrol bombs. This despicable crime against our state will never be tolerated."

He said operation Okae Molao, described on its Twitter page as a "campaign led by the Gauteng department of community safety to ensure that Gauteng is a safe and secure province", would retaliate.

"#OkaeMolao will respond in full force to defend [the] rule of law," Makhura tweeted.

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