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Tempers flare at Eugene Terre'blanche murder hearing

Tempers flared outside a South African court today when two black farm workers were charged with murdering white supremacist leader Eugene Terre'blanche.

Police kept apart a crowd of 200 supporters of Terre'blanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) and a group of black workers outside the court in Ventersdorp, 60 miles west of Johannesburg.

As AWB loyalists sang South Africa's apartheid-era national anthem, the opposing side responded with Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica (God Bless Africa), the anthem introduced after the country's first multi-racial elections in 1994.

South African leaders, including President Jacob Zuma, have urged calm since Saturday's killing, and police reacted quickly to separate the two groups when a white woman threw a bottle of water.

Inside the court, the farm workers, aged 15 and 21, were charged with murder in a case that has fanned fears of racial tension in Africa's biggest economy two months before it is due to host the soccer World Cup.

They were also charged with theft, robbery and crimen injuria - an assault on the dignity of the victim.

"After they assaulted the deceased, they pulled down his pants and exposed his private parts," said the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Menzi Simelane.

The case was adjourned to April 14, when the pair will have a chance to give their plea and request bail. The trial is being held behind closed doors because the youngest accused is a minor and the two have to be tried together.

The lawyer for the 15-year-old denied media reports that he had confessed to the crime.

Police believe Terre'blanche, who had pushed to preserve white minority rule in the 1990s, was killed over a pay dispute.

Even though analysts are not predicting any wider political repercussions, the killing has exposed the racial divide that remains 16 years after the end of apartheid.

"Whites still have all the power here. Since 1994, we have a black president but nothing has changed," said a 68-year-old woman who did not wish to be named because she was missing work.

"What those men did to Terre'blanche will show other farmers that we will not be oppressed."

The AWB has promised not to seek revenge for the death of their 69-year-old leader, who had become increasingly marginal in politics and had a tiny following among the whites who make up 10 per cent of South Africa's 48 million people.

However, the murder has heightened a sense among its supporters that they are being targeted by the African National Congress (ANC), the party of Nelson Mandela that has ruled South Africa since 1994.

Julius Malema, leader of the militant ANC Youth League, caused controversy last month when he sang a black liberation struggle song that includes the words "Kill the Boer" - now banned by the courts as hate speech.

"Before the 1994 elections, I was afraid and thought there was no place for an Afrikaner in a black country," said 73-year-old Sarie Visser, dressed in combat fatigues and bearing the AWB's swastika-like symbol on her armbands.

"Mandela assured us and made us feel better, but the government has changed now. If Malema can't be stopped, we know where we stand," she said.

The AWB chose Steyn van Ronge, a senior party member, today to replace Terre'blanche.