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Saturday, June 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

South Africa releases neo-Nazi chief

By Ethan Jameson
The Associated Press

Eugene Terre'Blanche of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement rides a horse to a news conference in Potchefstroom, South Africa, yesterday.
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POTCHEFSTROOM, South Africa - Eugene Terre'Blanche, the leader of the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement, was released from prison yesterday after serving three years for the savage beating of a black worker for eating on the job.

Terre'Blanche, a white extremist who tried to sabotage South Africa's first all-race election a decade ago with a bombing campaign, was paroled for good behavior. He had been sentenced to five years for attempted murder and assault in the 1996 beating of one of his black workers. The man was left permanently disabled.

While in prison, Terre'Blanche pleaded guilty last year to charges he led a bombing campaign that tried to sabotage the 1994 election that made Nelson Mandela the country's first black president. He was given a six-year suspended sentence.

About 400 supporters, including one waving the old apartheid-era South Africa flag, gathered outside the Correction Services office and cheered when Terre'Blanche was released in Potchefstroom, 75 miles west of Johannesburg.

A large number of black onlookers sang freedom songs and shouted "Viva 10 years of democracy," at times nearly drowning out Terre'Blanche's supporters.

Terre'Blanche mounted a horse and rode to a nearby hotel to hold a news conference.

"I am going to stand, to work, to fight for the safety of my language, my mother tongue," Terre'Blanche said, speaking mostly in Afrikaans.

He once struck a fearsome pose on horseback as he led his uniformed men through the streets. He also was ridiculed once when he fell off his horse during a parade in Pretoria. Yesterday, some black onlookers yelled, "Don't fall off your horse!"

Terre'Blanche yesterday insisted he would not return to politics and instead would resume farming.

His group has said in the past that it seeks an autonomous state for the white descendants of Dutch settlers who ruled South Africa during the apartheid era.

Andre Visagie, an Afrikaner Resistance Movement leader, said the group had for now abandoned violence in favor of negotiations.
"We are not in a war any longer," he said. "But if the government doesn't meet our demands, we will resort to our old ways."

Smuts Ngonyama, a spokesman for the ruling African National Congress, dismissed the threat posed by Terre'Blanche and his followers, who make up a tiny percentage of South Africa's 45 million people.

"I don't think Mr. Terre'Blanche's release will affect the democratic movement at all," he said. "He has never been a threat to democracy."

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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