Maka Angola (Luanda)

Angola: Gunfire Used to Disperse Former Soldiers' Protest

Photo: Maka Angola
Soldiers display their MPLA membership cards to show that there were no opposition parties behind their protest.

Hundreds of former soldiers staged a protest that caused panic in Luanda on the morning of 20 June. The war veterans were demanding payment of their pensions, some of which were 20 years in arrears.

A large contingent of Rapid Intervention Police and Military Police used teargas and batons to disperse a group that had gathered at the Largo de Maianga traffic intersection with the intention of marching to the Presidential Palace. Some of the protesters threw stones at the police. Some 50 war-widows also joined the protest, demanding the pensions that are owed to them.

Another group marched towards the American Embassy before being stopped near the Alto das Cruzes cemetery, again by police using teargas and batons. The autorities also used mounted brigades, canine squadrons and water canons, among other anti-riot measures

As a preventive measure, the presidential guard reinforced the security apparatus around the Presidential Palace and closed down all traffic around the area. At night, it was visible the state of high alert of the National Police, throughout the city, and of the Presidential Guard, around the palace.

About two weeks earlier, on June 7, the veterans took the authorities by surprise when they demonstrated in front of the Defence Ministry, which is next to the Presidential Palace. On that occasion the General Chief of Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), General Geraldo Sachipengo Nunda, had talks with representatives of the veterans and promised to resolve their problems the following week. The same evening, the Defence Ministry and the FAA issued a statement promising to pay the veterans' pensions "as soon as possible, through the national banking system." The statement called for "calm and understanding from all former soldiers, as the necessary steps have already been taken to resolve the situation."

Eurico Jeremias, 54, has been waiting for his pension for 20 years. He was demobilized in 1987 after 16 years of military service, after he lost his right eye in battle. "We came to demonstrate in front of the American embassy because our government is not hearing us. Here we were stopped by mounted police, the dog brigade and the teargas that they fired at us," he said.

Demonstrators told of some injuries and one death in the course of the chaos that followed. However, the spokesman for the Provincial Command of the National Police, Nestor Goubel, said there had been no deaths.

The demonstrators were also driven out of the Cruzeiro neighborhood next to the embassy. They then marched to the headquarters of the Army Signals Regiment in the Bairro Mártires de Kifangondo neighborhood, as they had been advised by senior officers who were at the scene that the payment of the pensions was being processed there.

Ruben, 42, a former soldier, was still waiting there at 5pm, with more than 200 other veterans. "Here we only want a solution," he said. "Either they pay or don't pay. We're tired of talking." Over the phone, he said that inside the headquarters they were under guard and with the gates closed, so he could not get out and other veterans could not get in. Outside, a joint contingent of the Rapid Intervention Police and Military Police continued to disperse hundreds of dissatisfied veterans.

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