Angola: Protest march announced

JOHANNESBURG, 7 March (IRIN) - Angola's opposition parties are planning to do what hitherto would have been almost unthinkable: To stage a mass protest march in Luanda in defiance of a government not noted for its tolerance of dissent.
The demonstration, set for Friday, is in response to the government's 1,600 percent rise in the price of fuel introduced in February. The hike, reportedly in preparation for a future agreement with the International Monetary Fund, has added an extra burden for already impoverished Angolans. In an attempt to ameliorate the effects, the government has offered a pay rise to public workers. But in a country with only limited formal sector employment, that only benefits some 150,000 people, sources said.

"This is very significant if they allow it to proceed," John Rosha of the South African-based peace group Angola 2000 said of the proposed march. "I think it's a way for people to express their frustration in general with the politico-military situation in the country," he told IRIN on Tuesday.

Since 1977 when an estimated 40,000 people were killed in the suppression of a coup attempt, there has been little in the way of overt protest. That changed last month when a small opposition party, the Progressive Democratic Party, staged two demonstrations over the fuel price rise. After four people were arrested at a sit-in on 24 February, the police apologised and released them.

Angola's key opposition leaders are planning to participate in Friday's march from Luanda's main market to a church next door to the provincial governors office. "There are signs of a momentum building, this is a revolutionary moment in Angolan political history," a political analyst in the capital said. "If the police arrest or shoots them, there would be merry hell to pay with the international community."

Meanwhile, Eugenio Manuvakola, the leader of breakaway UNITA-Renovada, has announced his intention to contest presidential elections set for 2001. Manuvakola, who signed the UN-brokered 1994 peace accord on behalf of the UNITA rebel movement, has recently toured European capitals looking for support from among exiled UNITA hardliners. He has also indicated he has won the backing of Western governments as a serious contender.

However, political sources in Luanda suggest that the man being touted by Western embassies is Abel Chivukuvuku, UNITA's former foreign minister. "He clearly wants to disassociate himself from UNITA-Renovada. He hopes to persuade the opposition parties to come together and fight as a unified group," one analyst said.

Whether the government will be able to hold general elections next year in a country still at war and where it does not have full control of the countryside remains uncertain. Analysts said that a constitutional requirement is for the free movement of people and access by the state to the entire country.


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