Rights groups appeal to EU over Angola harassment
By Zoe Eisenstein

LUANDA (Reuters) — Human rights groups accused Angola on Wednesday of intimidating their activists ahead of elections next year and urged the European Union to press the African country to stop the harassment.

Amnesty International, Global Witness and other non-governmental organisations said a firm EU response was needed to ensure groups could continue their work in preparation for the elections.

Angola’s state-run news agency reported last month that the government, made up largely of former Marxists and younger Western-leaning technocrats, might ban some organisations it considered to be operating illegally.

The National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, two U.S. groups working to educate Angolan voters, were cited by the ANGOP news agency as being among those that might be affected.

“We call on the EU to express to the Angolan authorities at the highest possible level its concerns about the vilification and harassment by government officials of organisations carrying out legitimate human rights activities,” the letter said.

Fears of a government clampdown rose earlier this year when authorities arrested and charged a Global Witness anti-corruption campaigner with espionage. She was later released and allowed to leave the country.

Activists and opposition parties have doubts about the likely transparency of parliamentary and presidential elections due in 2008 and 2009. They will be the first national polls since an aborted presidential election in 1992.

The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has postponed elections several times, citing the poor condition of roads and other infrastructure as reasons for the delays.

Opposition parties and human rights activists, however, worry that President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and MPLA leaders are unlikely to move ahead with any election that could end the party’s 32-year reign in the former Portuguese colony.

An estimated seven million people in the oil-producing nation are expected to vote in Angola’s legislative elections in 2008, with a presidential ballot to follow in 2009.

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