Rawlings leads anti-govt protest

2003-05-06 22:56
Accra - Ghana's former ruler Jerry Rawlings on Tuesday led a noisy but peaceful protest against President John Kufuor's government to denounce spiralling prices, corruption and fiscal mismanagement during its two years in power.

Some 5 000 supporters from the National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Rawlings, Kufuor's predecessor, marched through the streets of the capital, Accra, hurling insults at the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government.

Rawlings made a brief address at the end of the march.

"I am happy that the rank-and-file of the party came out to protest against the moral corruption that is going on in the country," he said to thunderous cheers and applause.

"It is only by coming together that we can rectify the mistakes," he added.

Many of the marchers sported headbands, T-shirts or bracelets in red - the traditional colour of mourning in Ghana - while taking part in the first protest by the main opposition party against Kufuor's government.

They carried banners reading "NPP is killing us slowly," "Zero tolerance for corruption is not working," "Government is causing financial loss to everybody" and "Kufuor's officials are vindictive".

'Kufuor has deceived me'

Some sang a parody of a popular ditty in the local Twi language called "My lover has deceived me", changing it to "My Kufuor has deceived me".

Kufuor pledged to combat inflation and stamp out corruption when he took power in January 2001.

The route of the march, from Accra's Kwame Nkrumah Square, named after Ghana's first post-independence president, to the bustling central market district, was lined with armed policemen.

At some points police deployed water cannons.

Several shops along the route did not open during the three-hour march, fearing it could degenerate into violence.

The ruling party and the organisers of the strike have accused each other of trying to whip up violence during the protest.

NDC leader John Atta Mills, who lost to Kufuor in the last elections, held in late 2000, told the rally: "The government of the NPP has no heart for the ordinary man."

He urged party supporters to "unite to ensure victory in the general elections", scheduled to be held next year.

'Life unbearable'

John Mahama, a spokesperson for the NDC, said life had become unbearable for the average citizen since early this year when the government hiked fuel prices by nearly 100 percent.

"It has been calculated that in the four-month period between January and April 2003, the cost of living has doubled for the ordinary Ghanaian," he said.

Inflation was estimated at 29% at the end of March, down from its rate of 40% when Kufuor took power but still untenable for many Ghanaians. One of Kufuor's main electoral pledges was to bring it down substantially.

Rawlings's party has also accused Kufuor's administration of launching a witchhunt against members of the former government through a South Africa-style reconciliation commission probing past excesses, especially by military regimes.

Mahama also obliquely accused ruling party officials of corruption.

"Within two years of assuming office, the NPP has acquired so much wealth as to be able to purchase four-by-four pick-ups for its offices and constituencies," he said.

"Perhaps, it is its newly acquired wealth that makes the NPP government oblivious of poverty, rising unemployment and social deprivation all round," he said.

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