S Africa minister defends embattled police chief

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CAPE TOWN, Oct 17 (Reuters) South Africa's safety and security minister said today there was no reason for him to suspend the country's controversial police chief, despite an arrest warrant that had been issued against him.

All eyes in South African politics have been riveted on National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi since reports that a warrant had been issued for his arrest for suspected ties to criminal syndicates. Selebi denies any wrongdoing.

Addressing questions in a heated parliament, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said Selebi had assured him that he had not committed any wrongdoing.

''I've asked him are you guilty of any crime? And he has said 'no, I am not','' he said, when asked if he would suspend Selebi.

The country's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has said it obtained a warrant of arrest against Selebi -- who also heads the international police agency Interpol. But it said the warrant had been put on hold pending a review.

''When the concerned person (Selebi) assumed office in 1999 crime levels were much higher than now. The downward trend attests to the person's guidance to the police service,'' said Nqakula.

Selebi has been criticised since the arrest last year of his friend Glen Agliotti in connection with the 2005 murder of mining magnate Brett Kebble.

The police chief denies having any financial links to or any knowledge of Agliotti's suspected underworld connections. Agliotti says he is innocent.

REUTERS RSA KN2339

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