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Angola’s ex-president dos Santos dies in Spain

Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled Angola with an iron fist for 38 years, died on Friday at a hospital in Barcelona after suffering cardiac arrest, the government said. He was 79.

Though seldom seen in public, dos Santos was a presence in daily life for as long as most Angolans could remember, coming to power in 1979, before stepping down in September 2017 after 38 years at the helm of the Portuguese-speaking, oil-rich state of Angola.

Throughout his rule, he maintained fierce control throughout the country’s devastating civil war, which ended in 2002, followed by an oil boom and recession in 2015.

With “great pain and consternation” the Luanda government posted on Facebook confirmation of dos Santos’ death at 11:10 am (1010 GMT) at the Teknon Medical Centre.

“(The government) presents its deepest feelings of sorrow to the bereaved family,” the statement read, describing the former leader as a “statesman of great historical stature” who led the country through very difficult times.

Angolan President Joao Lourenco, who is seeking re-election in August, declared five days of national mourning, starting on Saturday, and set-up a government commission to organise funerals.

A presidential decree ordered flags to be flown at half-staff and the cancellation of “all shows and public demonstrations”.

Dos Santos was admitted to hospital in Spain and placed in intensive care after suffering a cardiac arrest on June 23.

– Fears of foul play –

The government gave no explicit cause of death in its statement. One of dos Santos’ daughters swiftly demanded the hospital retain his body for an autopsy over fears of foul play.

She asked the medical centre to “hold onto the body… until an appropriate autopsy is carried out on fears it could be transferred to Angola,” her lawyers said in a statement.

Welwitschia dos Santos, more widely known as Tchize, had last Monday filed suit with the Catalan regional police, alleging her father’s condition was the result of attempted murder.

According to the complaint, the 44-year-old believes her father’s wife, Ana Paula, and his personal physician are responsible for the deterioration in his health.

In Friday’s statement, her lawyers said the complaint included allegations relating to “attempted murder, failure to exercise a duty of care, injury resulting from gross negligence and disclosure of secrets by people close to him”.

Police confirmed receiving the complaint and said they had opened an inquiry.

Born in the slums of Luanda, dos Santos was one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, using his nation’s oil wealth to turn one of his children into a billionaire while leaving his people among the poorest on the planet.

– ‘Billions embezzled’ –

During his reign, he avoided the personality cult so often favoured by dictators, but instead used secretive and authoritarian tactics he learned during the Soviet era.

And for as much as he controlled every aspect of Angolan life, he mismanaged his own transition away from power so badly that he ended up in temporary self-imposed exile, with a son in prison and a daughter facing international legal challenges.

When he stepped down, dos Santos handed over to former defence minister Lourenco, handpicked to replace him.

But Lourenco quickly turned on his erstwhile patron, starting an anti-corruption drive to recoup the billions he suspected had been embezzled under dos Santos.

Dos Santos’s son Jose Filomeno has been in prison since 2019 on corruption charges.

His eldest daughter Isabel was once named by Forbes as Africa’s richest woman, worth $3 billion (2.55 billion euros). She now faces a slate of investigations into her multinational business dealings.

For much of his time at the head of his MPLA party, Dos Santos fought a brutal civil war.

When the 27-year conflict with UNITA rebels ended in 2002, he led Angola away from hardline Marxism and fostered a post-war oil boom and foreign investment surge that transformed central Luanda.