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Durban's Regional Court was packed to capacity on Thursday ahead of the bail hearing of 20 members of the now disbanded Durban Organised Crime Unit.
The 20, who stand accused of being part of a hit squad, were arrested on Wednesday in a joint operation by the Hawks and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
Protesters stood outside the court building with placards in support of the 20 men.
Former national police commissioner Bheki Cele received rousing applause when he entered the public gallery.
There was a heavy police presence in the building and outside.
People were standing outside the court in the hallway because there was insufficient space for supporters and family.