updated 4/10/2008 7:36:59 PM ET 2008-04-10T23:36:59

A government official sparked an uproar Thursday after she said police should shoot to kill when confronting armed criminals in South Africa, a country notorious for its high rates of murder and rape.

Deputy Safety and Security Minister Susan Shabangu said in remarks broadcast on television and radio Wednesday that police should "kill the bastards" if threatened.

"I want no warning shots. You have one shot, and it must be a kill shot," she told a public meeting.

There is growing anger in South Africa about rampant crime. More than 50 people are murdered each day, and violent robbery and carjackings are common, as are kidnappings and attacks on children.

South Africa also has the highest reported rate of rape in the world. Based on reported cases alone, South Africa has 114 rapes per 100,000 people, compared with a rate of 32 rapes per 100,000 in the United States, according to police figures.

The country's Human Rights Commission expressed concern that Shabangu's comments were "inciting, disparaging and dismissive of the rule of law."

"The Commission would like to challenge Deputy Minister Shabangu to prove that her utterances are consistent with her sworn oath of office," it said in a statement.

The Democratic Alliance, the primary opposition party, said Shabangu should be fired.

Shabangu also was quoted by Independent newspapers as telling the meeting that the public should not accept lame excuses for police inactivity.

"If criminals dare to threaten the police or the livelihoods of innocent men, women and children, they must be killed. End of story," she said.

"The constitution says that criminals must be kept safe. But I say no, no, no."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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