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As oil flows, Angola's poor left out of "New Life"

Written by: Staff
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LUANDA, Apr 9: A queue of homeless people stands outside Angola's parliament waiting to hand in individual petitions -- a rare scene of political protest in this tightly controlled oil-rich country.

Former residents of slums on the outskirts of the capital Luanda, their makeshift homes were razed to make way for an extension of an upscale state-sponsored housing project called ''Nova Vida'' or ''New Life.'' ''Our houses have been destroyed by the government,'' explained one man in the queue, a 20-year-old who gave his name as Felizao.

''We are demanding compensation.'' An oil boom in Africa's second largest crude producer has sparked a scramble for high-end housing in mostly run-down Luanda as foreigners flock in for a piece of the action.

Left out of the oil bonanza, the residents of Luanda's squalid shantydowns are being squeezed out of their homes.

The petitioners came from Cambamba I and Cambamba II, poor areas close to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' official residence of Futungo dos Belas.

In March, police and members of a private security company moved into the area and proceeded to destroy the houses of 600 families to make way for the New Life expansion.

WRECKAGE

In Cambamba, the tracks were still fresh days after government bulldozers destroyed the fields that residents used to grow food to eat and sell at a nearby market.

What's left of the houses, splintered wood and stray pieces of sheet metal, sits below the nearby Nova Vida condominiums arranged neatly in pretty pink and white rows.

''The Europeans get to live in condos while we live like this.

There is no law for us,'' said Manuel Antonio as he stood outside his makeshift shack in a nearby field. He had salvaged what he could of his former home.

''And now we have to live like this, sleeping rough in the outside -- no food, no doctors. Just mosquitoes,'' he said.

Witnesses said the demolition was done swiftly.

The police came at about lunchtime, just before Maria de Gonga was due to return with her sick infant from the hospital. ''I came back and my house was destroyed,'' she said as she cradled her feverish baby by a baobab tree under which she had slept for the past week along with other residents. Other witnesses described how they were beaten with whips including one woman who, eight months pregnant, was kicked in her abdomen, causing haemorrhagic bleeding.

According to the United Nations human rights office in Luanda, this was the fourth forcible eviction carried out in the area in recent months, leaving thousands homeless.

The UN and Amnesty International have launched a campaign against the security forces involved, alleging that they acted with excessive force against an unarmed population.

CITY OF SLUMS

Despite Angola's burgeoning oil wealth, Luanda remains a city of slums. Over the past 3 decades the city has swollen from 500,000 to more than 4 million.

Housing is suddenly big business.

According to government figures, the state-run private investment agency Anip approved 290 investment projects amounting to 2.577 billion dollars in 2005 -- with the construction sector representing 85.4 percent of this total.

Construction has also been slated for roads and bridges as the country attempts to rebuild infrastructure left in ruins by war and neglect.

The government says that may include slum clearance.

''Look around in this area. You need order and you need the space to build social services. We must take a long-term approach,'' district administrator Jose Frank told Reuters as he pointed to the slums outside his window.

He said some people had moved into the area that had been demolished recently in an attempt to cheat the government.

''We will compensate those who are genuine,'' he said.

Back at parliament, no rough tactics were used on the petitioners -- a fact that impressed onlookers.

The ruling MPLA has brooked little dissent in more than three decades of its rule and critics say it will be reluctant to give up power and the oil revenues that go with it.

''This is not typical. To challenge the government here is very difficult -- I am impressed,'' said one.

REUTERS

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