MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) — About 300 armed men have gathered in a northern town in Mozambique, some for weeks, and they say they are awaiting orders from the country's main opposition leader to launch anti-government protests, state media reported Tuesday.
Religious leaders in the northern town of Nampula, in a region that is the stronghold of the Renamo party, expressed concern about the condition of the men gathered outside Renamo party headquarters there. They said some had been there more than a month with little food or proper sanitation.
State radio quoted Issufo Ossufo of a Nampula religious forum as saying Tuesday that three of the men died over the weekend of hunger and diarrhea. Renamo party leader Afonso Dhlakama has been threatening to peacefully oust the Frelimo party since losing 2009 elections, but no demonstrations have been held. The men gathered outside Renamo headquarters in Nampula say they will not leave until demonstrations start.
Nampula residents have told state TV they fear the men. But Renamo's spokesman, Fernando Mazanga, said at a news conference in Maputo on Tuesday that the men were peaceful and had a right to gather to organize demonstrations.
After winning independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique fell into a devastating war between Frelimo, which was then a Marxist guerrilla group, and Renamo, which was backed by neighboring South Africa's apartheid government.
Frelimo has been in power since independence and has won every vote since Mozambique's first multiparty election in 1994. The nation of 23 million on the southeast coast of Africa is among the poorest in the world.
Frelimo's Armando Guebuza easily won a second presidential term and his party swept parliamentary voting in 2009. Renamo accused Frelimo of stuffing ballot boxes and expelling opposition monitors from polling stations. Foreign observers deemed voting free and fair, despite concerns Frelimo used its entrenched position to overwhelm rivals during campaigning.