* Angola political campaign turns to sour
* Both parties accuse each other of foul play
* MPLA says UNITA threatening peace, stability
By Henrique Almeida
LUANDA, Sept 10 (Reuters) - The campaign for Angola’s 2012 elections is off to a ill-tempered start with the ruling MPLA party and the opposition UNITA party accusing each other of dirty tactics that threaten a return to violence in the oil producing nation.
The polls will only be the second since the end of Angola’s civil war that pitted the Russian and Cuban-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) against UNITA, backed by the U.S. and apartheid South Africa.
The MPLA, which won the war in 2002 and 82 percent of the vote in elections two years ago, is likely to win the elections in 2012, but it looks increasingly worried about UNITA’s accusations of not doing enough to fight poverty and corruption.
“UNITA has said things that can incite civil unrest through Radio Despertar,” MPLA spokesman Rui Falcao told Reuters on Friday, referring to a recent interview by the leader of UNITA in which he said riots in Mozambique could take place in Angola.
UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva’s made these comments after the government raised fuel prices by up to 50 percent last week. The deadly riots in Mozambique, which also took place last week, were triggered by a 30 percent rise in bread prices.
“But Angola is not like Mozambique,” said Falcao. “We continue to work to improve the lives of ordinary Angolans.”
Yet despite Angola’s vast oil reserves and billions of dollars spent rebuilding roads, bridges and other infrastructure after the war, analysts say the government still has a long way to go to improve living standards in the West African nation.
An estimated two-thirds of Angola’s population live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank, and the nation ranked in the bottom 19 of a Transparency International study last year.
UNITA is using these figures, along with the protests in Mozambique to round up supporters ahead of the elections, despite the risk of civil unrest in the war-torn nation.
“If something like this happens in Mozambique where poverty isn’t as bad, why couldn’t it happen here,” UNITA leader Isaias Samakuva said in a recent interview with Radio Despertar, or Radio Awakening.
Samakuva’s interview prompted MPLA spokesman Rui Falcao to hold a news conference earlier this week to denounce UNITA’s behaviour as irresponsible.
The government signalled a few days later it could close radio Despertar, which is seen as being sympathetic towards UNITA, for abuse of press freedom after it ran Samakuva’s interview.
Samakuva has defended UNITA, saying his party has no intention of returning to war. “But we can no longer turn a blind eye on poverty and government corruption,” he said.
Asked by Reuters whether the war of words between the MPLA and UNITA marked the start of a political campaign for the 2012 elections, Samakuva replied: “If this is the start then it’s a very bad start.”
“We are asking ourselves whether we will even have the conditions to hold these elections.” (Reporting by Henrique Almeida; Editing by Marius Bosch and Giles Elgood)