LISBON (Reuters) - Angola's ruling MPLA is using state media to its own advantage and restricting freedom of expression in the campaign for a general election on August 31, the main opposition party and a global rights group said on Wednesday.
Campaigning started on Tuesday with the head of the elections body urging media outlets to give equal treatment to the nine parties running in what will be only Angola's second election since the end of a 27-year civil war a decade ago.
President Jose Eduardo dos Santos - in power for 32 years in Africa's top oil producer after Nigeria - is expected to lead the MPLA to victory in the vote for lawmakers and a president.
Dos Santos' supporters cite his role in unifying the nation after the end of the war and then overseeing rapid growth, while opponents say he suppresses dissent.
"We have attacks on press freedom and the abusive use of state media organs," Isaias Samakuva, leader of the main opposition party UNITA, told journalists on Wednesday.
"(State-owned) Angolan Public Television and Angolan National Radio have arbitrarily decided to use public newscasts to promote the bid of the ruling party," he added.
The government runs official state TV, radio and newspapers, but denies accusations it uses them to give an uncritical portrayal of its policies and leaders.
The MPLA won the civil war against UNITA and crushed its rivals in a 2008 election by obtaining 82 percent of the vote.
Rights watchdogs have long accused Dos Santos' government of avoiding public scrutiny and suppressing press freedom.
New-York based Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Wednesday that "ruling party bias and restrictions on the media" were among key concerns it had identified in the election in 2008 and these had still not been addressed.
It also urged the government to stop using "excessive force, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials" to clamp down on a youth movement that has staged several protest rallies calling for Dos Santos to quit and on demonstrations by war veterans claiming unpaid pensions.
The government has denied using force to stifle dissent, and Dos Santos has called on young Angolans to put their faith in his policies, which he says will create jobs and social justice.
"I know the young are in a hurry and I understand them. In my youth I was also in a rush to change the country," Dos Santos said at a rally to launch the MPLA's campaign on Tuesday.
"Our goal is to offer more opportunities for personal and professional growth for all, especially the young."
(Reporting by Shrikesh Laxmidas; editing by David Dolan and Tim Pearce)