De Klerk set on ploy to pass amnesty bill

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The Independent Online
JOHANNESBURG - President F W de Klerk announced last night that he would be resorting to a device conceived under the regime of his predecessor, P W Botha, and which has been regarded as a questionable tactic, to force through an amnesty bill thrown out earlier in the day by parliament, writes John Carlin.

Mr de Klerk said the government would refer the bill, which will empower him to pardon members of the security forces for political crimes, to the President's Council - a body where the ruling National party has an inbuilt majority. Eager not to besmirch his reformist credentials, Mr de Klerk had not resorted to this procedure since coming to power in 1989.

The bill, whose purpose one opposition MP compared to the notion of the Nazis absolving themselves, will extend to offenders in the black liberation movement. But the African National Congress has rejected it, arguing that a general amnesty should be the task of a future interim government of national unity.

The anxiety the issue has generated in government circles was reflected in yesterday's decision to go ahead and put the bill to a vote despite the knowledge that it was almost certain to be defeated. On Tuesday MPs of the Indian chamber, the usually pliant House of Delegates, said they would not vote with the government.

Tony Leon, the justice spokesman of the liberal Democratic Party, said there could be only one explanation for the government's urgency. 'The irresistible inference is that they are under a lot of pressure from the security establishment.'