African dictators try to snuff out flames of discontent

By By MICHELLE FAUL and ANGUS SHAW | Associated Press

Ethiopia’s 20-year government announced a cap on basic food prices within days of President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali’s flight from Tunisia. Opponents said Saturday the government has rounded up some 200 opposition members in the past week “in a preemptive action to prevent the popular uprising that is sweeping through northern Africa.”

Angola’s ruler of more than 30 years, President Eduardo dos Santos, has used mass troop deployments and arrests to quash a planned pro-democracy protest. Opposition politicians and human rights lawyers in Angola, a virtual one-party state, have been receiving anonymous death threats and the cars of two lawyers were set ablaze.

In Djibouti, riot police moved against an estimated 6,000 people at an opposition political rally on Feb. 18, and opposition politicians said five people were killed and dozens wounded. A second rally planned for March 4 didn’t happen after security forces filled the streets. Opposition leaders have been jailed.

“There is no way anybody can win against him,” opposition leader Abdourahman Boreh said from exile in London, referring to President Ismail Omar Guelleh. “He uses all the power, all the police, all the government instruments and resources, and he uses brutality.”

Uganda’s Conservative Party leader John Ken Lukyamuzi said “it is very possible” the protests will spread to sub-Saharan Africa. In his own country, police fired tear gas against people protesting alleged rigging in last month’s presidential vote that saw incumbent Yoweri Museveni, 66, who has been in power since 1986, win again. He threatened his opponents.

“I will deal with them decisively and they will never rise again,” Museveni said, promising at one point to “bang them into jails and that would be the end of the story.”

In Zimbabwe, Jeenah said, people are held back from taking to the streets by fears of the beatings and torture meted out to dissenters, while Mugabe is sustained by the lack of criticism and even support demonstrated by other African leaders.

Ivory Coast threatens to slide back toward civil war since Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept that he lost November elections. As Gbagbo’s intransigence turns the commercial capital, Abidjan, into a war zone, African leaders have been hesitant to intervene militarily. Some who side with Gbagbo are themselves anti-democratic.

If Gbagbo prevails, he would be the third African leader to refuse to accept election results, following the lead of Mugabe and Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki.

It’s a dangerous precedent. More than a dozen presidential elections are scheduled across Africa this year. If winners of free and fair elections are prevented from taking office, the people’s discontent can only build.

(Faul reported from Johannesburg. Associated Press writers Jason Straziuso in Nairobi, Kenya; Godfrey Olukya in Kampala, Uganda; Divine Ntaryike in Douala, Cameroon; and Phathizwe-Chief Zulu in Mbabane, Swaziland contributed to this report.)

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