Oscar Pistorius, the South African Paralympic sprinter, has appeared in court to face a murder charge over the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his home in Pretoria.

State prosecutors said during proceedings on Friday that they will argue that Pistorius committed premeditated murder.

Dressed in a dark suit, the 26-year-old Olympic and Paralympic star stood with head bowed in front of Magistrate Desmond Nair to hear the charge of one count of murder read out.

Pistorius then started sobbing, covering his face with his hands. He was then remanded back into police custody until the next hearing, scheduled for Tuesday.

He disputes the charge laid against him "in the strongest possible terms", his agent said on Friday.

Steenkamp was shot four times, in the head and the hand, by bullets fired from a 9mm pistol owned by Pistorius, police said on Thursday.

"She was hit by four shots," Denise Beukes, police spokeswoman, said, adding that wounds have been found in the head and the hand.

South Africa has some of the world's highest rates of violent crime and many home owners have weapons to defend themselves against intruders.

Pistorius was held overnight at Pretoria's Boschkop police station after undergoing medical and forensic examinations, police said.

Packed courtroom

On Friday morning he was led, flanked by family members and officers, to a police station wagon to be taken to Pretoria's central magistrate's court.

The hearing was delayed for two hours as Pistorius' defence lawyers objected to throngs of local and international reporters packed into the courtroom.

Authorities earlier said they had opened a murder case after receiving a call that there had been a shooting at Pistorius' home in the Silverlakes gated community on the outskirts of Pretoria.

Katlego Mogale, a police spokeswoman, said that when officers arrived they found paramedics trying to revive a 30-year-old woman.

She died at the home, Mogale said.

National police spokeswoman Denise Beukes discussed the shooting in Pistorius' home outside the crime scene in Pretoria on Thursday

Officers found a 9mm pistol at the scene and took Pistorius into custody.

Steenkamp was reported to have been dating Pistorius for a year.

"We are all devastated. Her family is in shock," Steenkamp's agent, Sarita Tomlinson, told Reuters news agency, in tears over the incident, which happened in the early hours of the morning.

"They did have a good relationship. Nobody actually knows what happened."

Steenkamp had been due to give a talk at a Johannesburg school this week about violence against women.

Pistorius, who is popularly known as Blade Runner, races wearing carbon-fibre prosthetic blades after he was born without a fibula in both legs.

He was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics and reached the 400 semi-finals in London 2012.

In last year's Paralympics he suffered his first loss over 200 metres in nine years.

After the race he sullied his "media darling" persona somewhat by questioning the legitimacy of Brazilian winner Alan Oliveira's prosthetic blades.

The comments prompted controversy, though Pistorius was quick to express his regret.