Angolan president talks to some of state's toughest critics

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - Angolan President Joao Lourenco has met longtime critics of the government, generating some goodwill from activists who struggled to have their voices heard during the long rule of former leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Lourenco, a former defense minister who became president last year, on Tuesday hosted members of Angolan civil society organizations at the presidential palace to discuss education and other ways to improve the country, long criticized for corruption and human rights abuses. Lourenco has sought to distance his administration from his former boss, removing dos Santos' children from powerful government posts and opening the way to corruption cases against them.

Activist Sergio Calundungo welcomed what he called a "symbolic meeting" that indicates Lourenco is "not afraid to dialogue," according to Agencia Angola Press, the state-run news agency. Luaty Beirao, a rapper who had been jailed during the dos Santos era, tweeted that he had expected the meeting to be a positive gesture rather than a "magic wand" that would wave away the country's problems.

One of the Angolan state's harshest critics was barred from the meeting. However, journalist and activist Rafael Marques de Morais said he planned to meet privately with Lourenco on Wednesday after learning the president wanted to see him.

"I believe in the goodwill of the president," Marques said on Maka Angola, a website that he founded to highlight alleged government corruption and other concerns. He said he planned to raise the "main concerns" of people in Angola, an oil-rich country where poverty is widespread.

In an October article in Maka Angola, Marques noted "encouraging signs" in Lourenco's anti-corruption drive, including the arrest of Jose Filomeno dos Santos, son of the ex-president and former head of Angola's sovereign wealth fund.

However, Marques wrote: "Bringing so many rich and powerful criminals to justice is complicated by the fact that so many retain positions of political or military power."

Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who took power in 1979 amid a civil war, stepped aside as president after elections last year. He quit the post of ruling party leader in September, saying he had made mistakes but was leaving with his "head high."


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