France recalled its ambassador to Pretoria today and halted all new investments in South Africa, becoming the first nation to impose economic sanctions as a protest against the white-ruled government's declaration of a state of emergency.
The move set off fears in South Africa that other western nations would follow the French lead. It came as police announced that they had used sweeping emergency powers to arrest 224 more persons, bringing to 665 the total they said have been rounded up since the proclamation took effect Sunday.
French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius also announced that France was requesting an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to condemn the proclamation, which South African President Pieter W. Botha said was necessary to combat unrest in the country's black townships. The Security Council agreed to meet Thursday.
Reacting to the French move, Botha told the South African Press Association, "It amazes one that a western government which takes an interest in Africa and in the interests of black people can take exception to a government which restores order when communist powers and communist-inspired powers murder black people and try to disrupt the normal life of black communities."
Botha said his government would "fulfill its responsibility toward all its people in South Africa and not let itself be prescribed to about what is in the best interests of the people."
France is estimated to have at least $1.5 billion in direct investment in South Africa, ranking it behind Britain, West Germany and the United States. While present French investments are not directly affected by today's move, analysts here said some companies might decide to pull out their assets if barred from expanding.
"For all people who support justice and the rights of man, the apartheid regime in South Africa is inadmissible," Fabius said in his announcement, according to news reports from Paris. "It institutionalizes racial discrimination and attacks the moral and political principles which form our society."
Fabius said that in declaring a state of emergency here, which applies to 36 cities and towns, including Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, the South African government "has underlined its repression."
The French move was seen here as certain to increase pressure on other western nations to follow suit. "There's no doubt this will have an effect on other governments, especially in Europe," said John Barratt, director of the South African Institute of International Affairs.
Barratt said the French decision was particularly unexpected because France generally had been seen as "pragmatic and hardheaded" in its economic relations with Pretoria even while highly critical of the apartheid system of segregation.
But in recent months the French have been increasing their pressure. Fabius announced two months ago that France would adopt economic sanctions if South Africa did not begin to dismantle apartheid within the next two years. The French also have allowed the African National Congress, fighting South Africa's apartheid system, and the South-West Africa People's Organization, seeking an end to South African rule in Namibia, to open offices in Paris and have increased their aid to the two groups.
France was one of South Africa's major military suppliers until the mandatory United Nations arms embargo of 1977, and French warplanes, helicopters and submarines remain a critical part of Pretoria's arsenal. Framatome, a French engineering consortium, built South Africa's first nuclear power plant near Cape Town. Forty percent of French coal imports and 50 percent of its uranium imports come from South Africa.
Bernard Lafitte, president of the French Chamber of Commerce here, denounced the move as "unnecessary and unjustified," adding, "I think it will make things worse because investment is needed to help blacks here."
Lafitte, who is also managing director of the energy company Total, the country's largest French-owned firm, blamed the coming French election campaign for the announcement. He said French President Francois Mitterrand's Socialist Party was seeking to increase its sagging popularity with left-wing voters before elections for the National Assembly next March.
One of the countries likely to feel increased pressure from the French decision is Britain, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of all foreign investment here and which has a strong antiapartheid political lobby. The Thatcher government called yesterday for an "early end" to the state of emergency but Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe restated his opposition to any form of economic sanctions or to recalling the British ambassador here.
U.S. Ambassador Herman W. Nickel was recalled last month to protest a South African commando raid on the Botswana capital of Gabarone. The State Department has expressed "grave concern" over the emergency and said the apartheid system was to blame for the increasing violence here.
Reagan administration officials have insisted they have no plans to impose economic sanctions nor to abandon the increasingly besieged policy of cooperation with Pretoria known as "constructive engagement." But the emergency has increased the likelihood of a compromise between the Senate and House versions of a sanctions bill.
South African police today released the names of the latest 224 detainees. Two-thirds were from the eastern Cape Province area in and around Port Elizabeth. The list included clergymen, students, trade unionists and community leaders.
The pattern emerging from the arrests is that the police are not detaining nationally known leaders but activists involved with locally based community groups, most of them affiliated with the United Democratic Front, the leading antiapartheid movement.
Rather than banning the front itself, which is an umbrella organization for at least 700 local groups, police appear to be seeking to cut off its grass-roots leadership -- the people they contend are instigating much of the unrest in the townships. Police officials in the past have said they believe the front, whose leaders say they practice nonviolence, is a stalking horse for the African National Congress, the major resistance movement that has been outlawed here since 1960.
Police reported fewer incidents of unrest today and for the first time since the emergency was declared there were no reports of deaths. There were 11 deaths reported on the first three days.