Dos Santos denies he is a dictator
Luanda - The president of oil-rich Angola on Tuesday denied his country was a dictatorship but admitted there was a need for more social dialogue after a series of unprecedented anti-government protests.
"There is no base whatsoever to the claim that Angola is ruled by a dictatorial regime that doesn't recognise citizens' rights or freedoms," Jose Eduardo dos Santos told parliament during his annual State of the Nation address.
"There is no dictatorship here whatsoever," the president, who has been in power for 32 years, added. "On the contrary, in the country there is a new democracy which is lively, dynamic and participatory and which is being consolidated every day."
Dos Santos, who is one of Africa's longest-serving presidents, said the country would hold general elections in the third quarter of 2012, but did not say whether he would be standing again.
He could govern up to 10 more years under a constitution ratified last year. His ruling MPLA won 82% of the vote in 2008, the first election that didn't plunge Angola back into violence.
In what appeared to be a direct appeal to the growing number of young people who have been protesting against his government in recent months, Dos Santos said it was only "in peace" and "together" that they would "resolve the problems of the Angolan people".
He said his government would refocus on creating youth opportunities and said "there are some misunderstandings" and that the executive must create more methods of "dialogue and listening so that subjects are dealt with appropriately and the right solutions are found".
The president faces mounting criticism for his long and often autocratic rule, and his failure to spread the oil wealth in Africa's second-largest petroleum producer.
Anti-government protests started in March, growing steadily from small numbers to a crowd of 700 on Saturday, forcing the authorities to beef up security.
Opposition parties who attended Tuesday's event said the president told them nothing new and that he had merely used the platform as a pre-election campaign opportunity.