Angola opposition says will step up protests to loosen president's grip

Shrikesh Laxmidas
(Blank Headline Received)
Isaias Samakuva, leader of Angola's main opposition UNITA party , addresses supporters during the party's last rally ahead of parliamentary elections in Viana, about 30 km (19 miles) east of the capital Luanda, August 29, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

By Shrikesh Laxmidas

LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola's main opposition parties said on Tuesday they would step up street protests that have already left at least one person dead as it was the only way to shake President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' tight grip on Africa's No.2 oil producer.

Speaking three days after some of the biggest demonstrations since the end of a civil war in 2002, the parties' leaders said they had little room for manoeuvre in a highly centralised system in which parliament has been rendered toothless.

"We are left with no other way than to go to the streets. Maybe then they (the ruling MPLA party) will listen to us," said Isaias Samakuva, leader of main opposition party UNITA.

There was no one immediately available for comment from the MPLA which last week accused UNITA of trying to spread "chaos and anarchy" through the illegal rallies, which had been banned by the interior ministry.

UNITA, which lost a 27-year civil war against the MPLA in 2002 and has since been trounced in two elections, on Saturday organised nationwide rallies to protest against the kidnap and suspected murder of two opposition activists in May 2012.

A large, heavily armed police force clamped down on the protest, dispersing crowds of hundreds with teargas. They also shot and killed a member of Angola's second-biggest political party, CASA-CE, who police said tried to flee detention.

"Democracy is a process and in this process there may be martyrs. But we cannot stop because of that. We have to continue to develop peaceful action, protest and demands," said CASA-CE leader Abel Chivukuvuku.

He questioned whether it was still worth his party remaining in parliament, something it will discuss following the public funeral of its member on Wednesday.

Washington said it was deeply concerned by the killing, the use of violence and arrests.

Opposition parties and international human rights groups have long accused Dos Santos of suppressing human rights and using violence to block dissent during his 34 years in power, but analysts say Saturday's events could backfire for the government.

"The incidents will increase the urgency of demands for justice to be done. To the extent that justice is not done - and not seen to be done, they are likely to spawn further protests," said Markus Weimer, senior analyst for Africa at consultancy Control Risks.

Investments in the oil sector in Angola were, however unlikely to suffer, he added.

MPLA BLAMES OPPOSITION

The state-owned newspaper, Jornal de Angola, put the blame for the incidents squarely on the opposition.

"A defeat for Samakuva and peers," it said in an editorial.

But analysts say the clamp down showed signs of nerves in the MPLA.

"(It shows) growing insecurity and paranoia, which will only increase until the political succession of Dos Santos is resolved," said Alex Vines, an Angola expert at London-based think tank Chatham House.

Dos Santos, 71, last year led the MPLA to a strong election win but has kept everyone guessing about his plans. In a recent interview with Brazilian TV he said the MPLA was mulling a transition of power, but added it may take time.

A private visit to Spain since November9, on top of a similar 56-day visit earlier this year, has sparked speculation about his health.

"We see this very badly. Whether it is for health reasons of other matters, we are concerned and want to know what is going on with the president," UNITA's Samakuva said.