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Mine firm threatens to fire staff after killings

Week of mourning declared in South Africa after killings.

MARIKANA, South Africa // Platinum giant Lonmin yesterday ordered employees at a South African mine where police killed 34 people to return to work, but miners remained defiant as a week of national mourning was declared.

The London-listed company issued a final ultimatum to staff to end their wildcat strike three days after the worst episode of police violence since apartheid, as president Jacob Zuma declared a week of national mourning.

Lonmin said the call was "a last opportunity to return to work" for employees taking part in a strike stemming from a conflict between rival unions that had already claimed 10 lives and shut down production before escalating into Thursday's bloodshed.

"Employees could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed the final ultimatum," warned the world's number three platinum producer.

But workers, who have been on strike at the Marikana mine since August 10, pledged to press on with their wage demands, and said the demand to return to work was "an insult" to colleagues who were gunned down by police.

"Many of our friends and colleagues are dead, then they expect us to resume work. Never," said worker Zachariah Mbewu.

"Some are in prison and hospitals. Tomorrow we are going back to the mountain [protest site], not underground, unless management gives us what we want."

Lonmin set today as a deadline for striking employees to return to work.

That will coincide with the start of a week of national mourning.

"The nation is in shock and in pain. We must this week reflect on the sanctity of human life and the right to life as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic," said Mr Zuma.

The week will commemorate recent victims of violence, with Mr Zuma singling out the Marikana carnage.

The fiery former leader of the ruling party's youth wing, Julius Malema, fanned workers' anger on Saturday with a speech attacking Mr Zuma, whom he wants voted out at the African National Congress's end of year party elections.

Thursday's crackdown left 34 dead, 78 wounded and 259 detained, and boosted the death toll to 44 after the 10 earlier deaths, including two police officers.

Relatives of the missing mineworkers milled outside the mine's hospital to check if their loved ones had been admitted there, had been arrested or were among the dead.

Police have claimed self-defence and several probes have been launched, including Mr Zuma announcing a judicial commission of inquiry.

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