Luanda - Plans for a mass protest against long-time Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos failed to materialise on Monday after police arrested 15 people, including three journalists.
Organisers postponed the protest call from midnight to Monday afternoon after three journalists for the Novo Jornal daily, a rapper famed for his inflammatory lyrics against Dos Santos, and about a dozen others were arrested overnight in the capital, according to an organiser and the paper's director.
But although police released the detainees late on Monday morning, no protest had materialised in Luanda's May 1 Square by 5pm, three hours past the rescheduled starting time.
Military police patrolled the streets during the day, but by early evening only traffic police and a handful of pedestrians were in the area.
“We're currently thinking of other open-air places in Luanda where the protesters can meet,” Mangovo Ngoyo, one of the organisers and a member of the separatist movement in the oil-rich Angolan enclave of Cabinda, told AFP by phone from London.
Since last month, rumours have circulated on the Internet of North Africa-style protests scheduled to begin on March 7 in this former Portuguese colony.
While the organisers of the protest remain largely anonymous, a Facebook page called “The Angolan People's Revolution” had called on Angolans to march at midnight with posters “demanding the departure of Ze Du (Dos Santos' nickname), his ministers and his corrupt friends”.
The director of Novo Jornal, Victor Silva, said the newspaper's journalists were part of a group of 15 people arrested overnight at May 1 Square and carted away to a police station. He said all the detainees were later released.
“They were detained for no apparent reason,” Silva said of the journalists.
“They were in May 1 Square to report on whether or not the protest was happening, the number of people present, etc.”
Rapper Brigadeiro Mata Frakus, who recently returned from exile and was also arrested, is hugely popular on the Internet since he released a song criticising Dos Santos, in power since 1979.
Police had not responded to requests for information by early evening.
The chief opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), had said it would not take part in the protests because it did not know who was calling for the marches.
Many had dismissed the anonymous call to protest as a charade. But the ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), reacted with a show of strength by organising large pro-government demonstrations Saturday in Luanda and several other cities.
Angola is the continent's largest producer of crude oil along with Nigeria, but the majority of its 18-million people live beneath the poverty line.
“What outrages people is that Angola is a rich country. The government knows well that the level of discontent is growing,” investigative journalist Rafael Marques told AFP on Sunday.
But more than 80 percent of voters elected the presidential party during 2008 elections, the first since the end of its 27-year civil war in 2002.
Elias Isaac, head of non-profit Open Society's Angola office, said the country faces problems similar to those that sparked the unrest in north Africa, but was unlikely to return to violence so soon after its civil war.
“There are enough ingredients in Angola for people to easily connect with what's happening in North Africa, especially in the social and political arenas,” he said.
But, he added, “There have only been eight years of peace here, and the people, who lost everything, aren't ready to let go of the little they've acquired.” - Sapa-AFP