By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's government called on Saturday for an immediate end to violent protests by students demanding free education, after nine people were arrested in overnight clashes with police in Johannesburg.
Protests have been raging for weeks at universities across the country, prompting President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday to form a ministerial team to tackle the issue.
"The upsurge of violence and destruction of property associated with student protests are criminal and unwarranted," the government said in a statement.
"Government calls for violent campus protests to stop immediately ... Law enforcement agencies are constitutionally bound to act against any perpetrators of criminal acts that are committed during protests within institutions of higher learning. They will be arrested and prosecuted."
Police spokesman Wayne Minnaar said a supermarket had been looted and three cars set alight in an area of Johannesburg adjacent to the University of the Witwatersrand, which has been the scene of some of the most violent demonstrations.
The University of the Free State said this week it would shut its main campus in Bloemfontein, 400 km (250 miles) south of Johannesburg, and other satellite campuses until Oct. 28 in response to almost four weeks of student protests.
The government said the protests undermined "the genuine struggles for access to quality higher education, which are supported by government".
The flare-ups over the cost of university education, which is prohibitive for many black students and set to rise by up to 8 percent next year, have highlighted frustration at the inequalities that still endure, more than two decades after the end of apartheid.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)