President P.W. Botha Wednesday granted a reprieve to the Sharpeville Six, a group of blacks whose death sentences have provoked worldwide protests, a news agency said.

The report by the independent South Africa Press Association did not indicate whether the reprieve was temporary.Jack Viviers, a spokesman for Botha, declined to comment on the report when questioned by The Associated Press. Officials at the Department of Justice could not immediately be reached for comment.

Hours earlier, the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein, the nation's highest court, unanimously rejected an appeal to reopen the trial.

Defense lawyers have said the only formal avenue left for saving the six was to petition Botha for clemency. Botha had turned down a previous clemency request but said at the time that he would reconsider the matter "as a human being" once the judicial process was completed.

The six defendants, five men and a woman, were convicted of murder in connection with the September 1984 mob killing of a black town councilor in Sharpeville, a township south of Johannesburg.

No evidence was presented that the six contributed physically to the death of the councilor, Kuzwayo Dlamini. Instead, they were convicted under the doctrine of common purpose, which held them responsible because they allegedly were active participants in the mob that killed Dlamini in riots caused by a rent increase.

Anti-apartheid groups in South Africa, international human rights organizations and numerous foreign governments have urged Botha to grant clemency.

Appeals for clemency for the six have come from, among others, the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain and most other European countries, and the United Nations. Virtually all prominent anti-apartheid and liberal leaders in South Africa have urged clemency, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu.