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Charges dropped against South African miners

Murder charges against 270 miners in South Africa will be dropped, but may be brought again pending further investigations. The miners were accused of killing 34 striking colleagues, shot by police, in August.

"Final charges will only be made once all investigations have been completed. The murder charges against the current 270 suspects will be formally withdrawn provisionally in court," said Nomgcobo Jiba, South Africa's acting national director of prosecutions, at a news conference.

The 34 workers were shot dead by police on August 16 at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. Police, who said they acted in self-defense, had moved in following the deaths of 10 others, including two police officers.

The original violence at the mine was sparked by a wage dispute and a turf war between rival unions. The August 16 incident sparked outrage in South Africa and internationally, with many drawing a link to apartheid justice.

The miners had been charged under "common purpose law," which originates from the apartheid era. Prosecutors argued the miners acted with a common purpose in the deaths of their colleagues.

However, some legal experts questioned the charges.

"In charging the miners for the death of miners killed by the police, I don't see how common purpose doctrine could be used here," said Vincent Nmehille, a law professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, on Thursday.

"Unless what we saw on our TV screens never happened or unless the [National Prosecutions Authority] is hiding shocking and bizarre conspiracy theory-type evidence from us that places the events we saw on television in an entirely different light, there could be no possible valid reason," wrote constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos in his blog.

jr/slk (Reuters, AFP)