South Africa closes embassy in Nigeria after xenophobic violence

South Africa has temporarily closed its diplomatic missions in Nigeria following reprisal attacks by Nigerians triggered by xenophobic violence in South Africa. Since Sunday, mobs have looted and destroyed shops, many of them foreign-owned, in South Africa's commercial hub Johannesburg, .

Nigeria's government has been outspoken in its condemnation of the violence. South Africa's foreign minister called it an embarrassment for her country.

"Our government regrets all violence against foreign-owned stores or Africans from other countries who are resident in South Africa," national broadcaster SABC quotes the minister, Naledi Pandor, as saying.

She had ordered the closure of the country's high commission in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and its mission in Lagos, following threats made to the diplomatic staff, Ms Pandor told the Reuters news agency. On Monday and Tuesday, South African-owned businesses were targeted by protesters in several Nigerian cities. South African telecoms giant MTN closed its shops as a precaution.

Seven people have been killed in the trouble in South Africa but none of the victims have been identified as Nigerian. Nevertheless, videos and images being shared on social media purporting to show Nigerians being attacked and killed have inflamed tensions.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has sent an envoy to South Africa to "express Nigeria's displeasure over the treatment of her citizens". But on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama clarified that while the government believes that Nigerian businesses in South Africa had been targeted, it had no information that any of its citizens had died.

"There are a lot of stories going around of Nigerians being killed, jumping off buildings and being burnt. This is not the case," he told journalists. He also urged people to stop attacking South African businesses in Nigeria, saying that the president "is particularly distraught at the acts of vandalism". To help any Nigerians who might want to leave South Africa, the foreign ministry said they were being offered a free flight home.

Protests have also taken place in Zambia at South Africa's High Commission - with fires started by an angry group of students. Mobs looted and burned shops, homes and vehicles owned by foreigners. Five people were killed, and at least 189 people suspected of being involved in the violence have been arrested.

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