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Police Fire Tear Gas at Mozambican Rapper's Memorial

Protesters take part in a march supporting rapper Azagaia in Maputo, Mozambique, March 15, 2023.
Protesters take part in a march supporting rapper Azagaia in Maputo, Mozambique, March 15, 2023.

Mozambique police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters planning a march Saturday in memory of a rapper vocal in his criticism of the government, Human Rights Watch said.

The sudden death of Edson da Luz, known by his stage name Azagaia, has sparked rare anti-government demonstrations in the southern African country.

On Saturday, more than a thousand people were expected to take part in a memorial march in central Maputo, with rallies also planned in other cities.

But in the capital, a heavy police presence prevented the procession from taking place.

"They didn't allow people to gather," said Zenaida Machado, a senior researcher with HRW in Mozambique, pointing out that the rally had been authorized by city authorities. "Without any sign of violence from the protesters, they started throwing tear gas, and rubber bullets."

Social media footage showed anti-riot police with armored vehicles and dogs firing tear gas as they dispersed small groups of demonstrators.

"We came here to say thank you to rapper Azagaia for everything he has done for this country. Why are they attacking us?" activist Fatima Mimbire told AFP. "It was a peaceful march.”

At least two people were injured after a tear gas grenade landed inside a house, said Quiteria Guirrengane, a rights activist who was among the organizers of the demonstration.

"Some young people who were in the march were arrested and we are currently trying to free them."

A police spokesperson did not answer calls from AFP seeking a comment.

Azagaia, who died after an epileptic seizure earlier this month, was popular among Mozambique's youth for his lyrics focusing on poverty, corruption and human rights issues.

A funeral procession attended by thousands of people earlier this week also saw police firing tear gas. HRW has called on the government to investigate both incidents.

"Authorities in Mozambique appear to be completely paranoid about having seen people on the streets peacefully protesting or marching for a cause," Machado added.

Political protests are rare in Mozambique, ranked among the poorest nations in the world, where the ruling Frelimo party, has been in power since independence from Portugal in 1975.