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Angola pays homage to ex-leader dos Santos amid vote dispute

#Angola #pays #homage #exleader #dos #Santos #vote #dispute

Angolans started paying their final respect to former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos on Saturday as the veteran strongman’s historically dominant party emerged from its worst electoral result.

Dos Santos, who ruled Angola with an iron fist for 38 years, died on July 8 at a hospital in Spain after suffering a cardiac arrest. 

His tenure saw members of his family plunder the nation’s oil riches while most Angolans remained mired in poverty.

He will be buried at a state funeral on Sunday, on what would have been his 80th birthday.

The funeral is set to be attended by about a dozen foreign leaders, including the presidents of Portugal, Mozambique and South Africa.

A brown casket carrying dos Santos’s body and draped with the Angolan flag made the solemn trip through the streets to the city’s central Praca da Republica plaza. 

Most people went about their daily lives while some watched the cortege slowly drive past.

The coffin will lie in state in a tent for the public to pay their last respects. Hundreds of blue seats neatly laid out in the square for mourners were empty with a few MPLA supporters filing past the coffin to bid their final farewell.

– ‘President of peace’ –

“We are here to salute our president, the president of peace, the president of national reconciliation, the president who helped us through the war, and we live in peace thanks to him,” said Solange Quiniani, dressed in the colours of the ruling party.

Religious chants echoed through loudspeakers in the vast plaza, where there were black flags and posters paying homage to “Zedu” — dos Santos’s nickname. 

“Farewell beloved President!”, “Forever our commander”, “Zedu, man of the people”.    

A small group of women wept, chanting the name of the man whose tenure was marred by allegations of sweeping nepotism and plunder of the oil-rich state’s resources. 

A few family members and government officials accompanied the casket to the square, but none of his children were present.

Some of his children were at loggerheads with the government and his estranged wife over where and when he was to be buried.

But a Spanish court last week ruled that the body be repatriated to his wife in Angola. 

His eldest daughter Isabel dos Santos, who has faced a slew of investigations into her multinational business dealings, last week wrote on Instagram that she would not be able to see her father to his final resting place. 

The funeral comes as dos Santos’s MPLA party notched up its worst electoral performance in this week’s polls.

After 97 percent of the results were tallied, an initial count showed the MPLA had won 51.07 percent of the vote, against 44.05 percent of its main rival, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

UNITA — which fought a bitter 27-year civil war against the MPLA government — has rejected the results and wants a review of the results led by an impartial international panel.

The election handed dos Santos’s successor President Joao Lourenco a second five-year term in office. 

MPLA’s support has been on a gradual decline in recent elections.

Born in the slums of Luanda, dos Santos was one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

Critics say he used his nation’s oil wealth to enrich his family and cronies but left most of his 33 million people among the poorest on the planet.

When he stepped down in 2017, dos Santos handed over to former defence minister Lourenco whom he had handpicked to succeed him. 

But Lourenco quickly turned on his erstwhile patron, unleashing an anti-corruption drive to recoup the billions he suspected had been embezzled under dos Santos.

Lourence is to lead the funeral on Sunday.

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