Angolan police on Thursday fired tear gas at youths rallying in Luanda against police brutality and economic hardship, days after several protesters were killed in a crackdown in the country’s northeast.
Around 100 demonstrators were dispersed in the capital as they gathered on Liberation Day — a public holiday marking the start of armed uprising against Portuguese colonial rule — to stage unauthorised anti-government demonstrations.
In addition to poor living conditions, alleged state corruption and delayed local elections, the activists were also denouncing a violent police crackdown on a separatist protest that left at least six dead.
Security forces on horseback were already on stand-by when the demonstrators gathered for their march, dispersing them with batons and tear gas and arresting dozens of people.
Some of the protesters hurled stones in retaliation, an AFP reporter said.
The crackdown took place as Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Angolan government to restrain “excessive” use of force and firearms against peaceful demonstrations.
Security forces have violently dispersed a string of anti-government protests that gained momentum over the second half of 2020, firing live bullets and tear gas into the crowds.
On Saturday, they opened fire on a group of separatists marching in the remote diamond mining town of Cafunfo, around 750 kilometres (470 miles) east of Luanda.
HRW claims at least 10 unarmed protesters were killed, 20 injured and 16 detained — higher than the death toll first reported by police, who allege they were acting in self-defence.
The government has vowed to open an investigation into the incident.
“Accountability for serious abuses by security forces is essential to prevent their recurrence,” HRW Africa researcher Zeinada Machado said in a statement on Thursday.
Public protests were relatively rare in Angola and were often targeted by security forces during the reign of ex-president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who stepped down in 2017.
His successor Joao Lourenco had raised hopes of change after almost four decades marked by graft and nepotism, but that was shortlived.
Disenchantment towards the government has been mounting, prompting several marches against Luanda, seen as failing on promises to end corruption and revive the economy.
Police are notoriously violent in the southwest African country — the legacy of a 1975-2002 civil war and almost four decades of repressed dissent under dos Santos.