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South Africa's army starts large deployment to restore order

In one of the largest deployments of soldiers since the end of white minority rule, 25,000 South African troops began taking up positions Thursday to help quell weeklong riots sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.

Violence erupted after ex-president Zuma began serving 15-month sentence for contempt of court

A member of South Africa's military walks down a street in Alexandra on Wednesday during an operation to retrieve stolen goods amid unrest linked to the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma. (Sumaya Hisham/Reuters)

In one of the largest deployments of soldiers since the end of white minority rule, 25,000 South African troops began taking up positions Thursday to help quell weeklong riots sparked by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma.

At least 117 people have been killed in the violence, authorities said.

The government said 10,000 soldiers were on the streets by Thursday morning, patrolling alongside police, and the South African National Defence Force had also called up all of its reserve force of 12,000 troops.

In a show of strength, a convoy of more than a dozen armoured personnel carriers brought soldiers into Gauteng province, South Africa's most populous, which includes the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria.

A pedestrian passes a burned vehicle in Durban, South Africa, on Thursday. (The Associated Press)

Buses, trucks, airplanes and helicopters were also being used to move the large deployment of troops to trouble spots in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal province, which have seen violence in mainly poor areas.

The unrest erupted last week after Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court for refusing to comply with a court order to testify at a state-backed inquiry investigating allegations of corruption while he was president from 2009 to 2018.

Protests in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal quickly escalated into a spree of theft in township areas, although it has not spread to South Africa's seven other provinces, where police are on alert.

'This is economic sabotage'

More than 2,200 people have been arrested for theft and vandalism and 117 people have died, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, acting minister in the presidency said Thursday. Many were trampled to death in chaotic stampedes when shops were being looted, according to police.

"These are not demonstrations. This is economic sabotage and we are investigating with a view to apprehending the instigators," Ntshavheni said at a briefing Thursday.

One person has been arrested and 11 others are under surveillance for inciting and planning the unrest, she said.

The armed patrols have brought stability to Gauteng, authorities said. Army troops stood guard at the large Maponya mall in Soweto, which remained closed.

Cleanup operations get underway at a shopping centre in Vosloorus, near Johannesburg, on Thursday. (Themba Hadebe/The Associated Press)

Volunteer groups cleaned up shattered glass and debris from shops that had been stormed and looted in Johannesburg's Soweto, Alexandra and Vosloorus areas.

"I spoke to some of the guys who are unemployed in my area to come and help. The mayor supported us with transport to get here. We came here with two buses," said George Moswetsa, a resident of Vosloorus in eastern Johannesburg who was helping to clean up a mall that had been trashed.

The unrest, however, continued Thursday in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma's home province. There were renewed attacks on shopping centres and several factories and warehouses were smouldering after being hit by arson attacks.

Police discovered more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition in Durban on Wednesday night, which Minister of Police Bheki Cele said belonged to people who were instigating the violent riots in the province.

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