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South African white supremacist convicted of bombings

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) -- A South African court convicted white supremacist leader Eugene Terre Blanche of terrorism Wednesday for ordering bomb attacks before the 1994 elections that brought democracy to the black majority.

Terre Blanche, the face of violent white reaction in the dying years of apartheid, was sentenced to a suspended six-year jail term under a plea bargain with prosecutors, National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Makhosini Nkosi said.

Terre Blanche, the leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, is currently serving a six-year sentence for beating a black farmworker in 1996, causing permanent brain damage.

He was convicted of giving orders for at least five bombings ahead of the 1994 vote. The bombers are already serving life sentences for other crimes.

A burly man whose bearded visage once epitomized white extremism to the outside world, Terre Blanche has faded from the political stage but remains a potent symbol for disaffected Afrikaners, white descendants of Dutch and French settlers.

He and his khaki-clad band of supporters threatened to derail democratic elections in 1994 that marked the end of decades of white minority rule.

But the group, which once claimed thousands of members, suffered humiliating setbacks, notably when several of its members were filmed being shot to death in a failed effort to prop up the faltering government of the nominally independent black "homeland" of Bophutatswana shortly before the 1994 polls.

Terre Blanche appealed to right-wing Afrikaner sentiment, organizing horseback possessions where armed followers flew banners emblazoned with a symbol reminiscent of the Nazi swastika.

While the group is widely regarded as a spent force, the government still sees white right-wingers as a threat. Twenty-two members of another group, the Boeremag or Farmer Force, are on trial for treason over an alleged plot to topple the government.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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