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S.Africa court puts the brakes on highway tolls

By AFP

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - A South African court on Saturday halted the roll-out of tolls on major highways around Johannesburg in the latest delay for the project which has met widespread opposition.

The court put the brakes on the tolling, originally meant to start on Monday, to allow a full court review to decide if the plan should be dropped or go ahead, the Sapa news agency reported.

"I make the following order... the first respondent (the South African National Roads Agency) is interdicted and restrained from levying and collecting tolls," said Judge Bill Prinsloo in Pretoria.

The start of the project was postponed on Thursday for a month amid the urgent court action brought by a coalition of interest groups, and threats of a nation-wide strike by the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions.

The government argues that the fees are needed to pay for highway upgrades and has already dropped the toll rates by 40 percent and agreed to a fees cap of 550 rands ($71/54 euros) a month for motorists.

But critics argue that it will hit drivers hard and place an und ue burden on the poor, even though the mini-bus taxis used by most South Africans will be exempt from paying.

The tolls are planned for 185 kilometres (115 miles) of major highways around South Africa's economic hub Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

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