Democracy Meetings Turns into Public Trial for Embattled African Leader
BRAZZAVILLE, Congo (AP) _ Pressed to allow greater democracy, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso held an unprecedented open meeting on nationwide television Wednesday - but it quickly got out of his control.
Sassou-Nguesso faced allegations he stole millions of dollars from the treasury of the central African nation and that officials of his government knew in advance of terrorist plans to blow up a French airliner in 1989.
The face-to-face conference was called by the Marxist government following growing public demands for democracy.
The most startling moment of the raucous meeting came when Magistrate Jacque Okoko jumped from his seat and said the president had tried to prevent him from divulging secrets from the trial of the accused assassins of President Marien Ngouabi.
Okoko, who was state prosecutor in the trial, said records of the case had been burned, but ″the real record is in my head″ and he was ready to share it with the conference.
Former president Gen. Jacques Joachim Yhombi-Opango, who succeeded Ngouabi after his 1977 death and ruled to 1979, told the conference that Sassou- Nguesso had the dossier on Ngouabi’s slaying. Sassou-Nguesso took power in February 1979.
A report last year by the London-based human rights group Amnesty International said ″many observers maintained that the trial had been a mockery and that those really responsible for the assassination were still at large and in senior posts.″
Opposition leader Roger Massema also charged that members of Sassou- Nguesso’s government knew about terrorist plans to blow up a UTA passenger jet. All 171 people aboard the DC-10 died when it blew apart on Sept. 19, 1989, on a flight from Paris to Ndjamena, Chad, that stopped in Brazzaville, the Congolese capital.
Massema claimed three government officials - Finance Minister Edouard Gakosso, Rural Development Minister Gabriel Oba Apounou and Nguesso’s financial advisor Clement Mouamba - canceled their seats on the flight because they knew a bomb would be planted.
None of the men could be reached for comment, and Sassou-Nguesso did not respond immediately to the charges.
Massema also claimed that Sassou-Nguesso had benefited from a $3.8 million diversion of state funds organized by his former Works and Social Security Minister Dieudonne Kimbene in 1987.
Sassou-Nguesso’s government has been the target of a wave of strikes and violent pro-democracy protests. He had promised to install a multiparty democracy later this year, but opponents have accused him of delaying tactics and have refused to take part in a transitional government.
The former French colony gained independence in 1960.