Angola jails alleged coup plotters for up to 10 years
An Angolan court handed down jail terms Wednesday ranging from four to 10 years to eight men accused of seeking to topple the country's long-ruling president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
The men were described as the ringleaders among 35 former fighters from the UNITA opposition party who allegedly tried to seize power in January 2016.
The purported plot was reported by the Angolan media only last November, and 35 people were placed on trial in Luanda, the capital, just a few days later.
Summarising his case last month, prosecutor Edelvasse Matias urged the court to hand down jail terms of six to eight years.
"The accused sought to foment trouble against the Angolan state and physically harm President Eduardo dos Santos," he said.
"If their scheme had succeeded, it would have destroyed the lives of millions of Angolans."
According to the indictment, the men were arrested on January 30 and 31 last year, close to the presidential palace and the public television and radio station.
It said they had eight guns, as well as knives and bayonets.
The men were accused of plotting "to take over (the television station) after capturing the head of state at the presidential palace," the indictment said.
The accused repeatedly denied the charges. One of their lawyers, Assureira Sebastiao, on Wednesday said the verdict was a "political" decision and said there would be an appeal. UNITA has denied any involvement in the affair.
The other defendants in the group were acquitted or sentenced to lighter jail terms that were covered by time already served in custody.
General elections are scheduled to be held in Angola in August, but Dos Santos, 74, has said he does not intend to seek a further term.
He has named his defence minister, Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco, as his successor.
Dos Santos has governed the oil-rich central-western African power since 1979, just four years after independence from Portugal, making him Africa's second-longest serving leader after Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
For half of his tenure, Angola was gripped by a bloody civil war that ended only in 2002, which was followed by a massive oil boom.
But critics say millions of Angolans have missed out on the wealth, corruption is widespread and dissent is brutally repressed.