Equatorial Guinea holds memorial for victims of deadly blasts

Image from video shows smoke rising over the blast site at a military barracks in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, March 7, 2021. /VCG
Image from video shows smoke rising over the blast site at a military barracks in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, March 7, 2021. /VCG

Equatorial Guinea’s president on Friday paid homage to the people killed and wounded this week in devastating blasts at an army camp, in a ceremony broadcast on state television.

The explosions on Sunday demolished buildings at a military camp for special forces, gendarmes and their families in Bata on the country’s northwest coast, as well as wrecking a surrounding built-up area.

“This terrible accident… shows peace is very fragile and can be breached at any moment by irresponsible, ignorant or incompetent behaviour by our fellow citizens,” President Teodoro Obiang Nguema said at a ceremony in a stadium in Bata, Equatorial Guinea’s economic capital.

The provisional toll from the blasts is 107 dead and 615 wounded, although a five-year-old girl was unearthed alive in the ruins on Wednesday, TVGE state television reported.

International rights group Human Rights Watch on Wednesday said that there had been “far more” casualties than officially acknowledged, citing reports of the number of bodies pulled from the rubble.

“We don’t have the real figure and I don’t know if we’ll ever have it,” said Alfredo Okenve, a human rights activist from Equatorial Guinea who lives in exile in Europe.

Obiang has held a tight grip on power in the small central African country for almost 42 years.

On Sunday he immediately announced an inquiry to find out who was responsible, saying that a farmer had been carrying out slash-and-burn clearance of land by the explosive stores and accusing leaders at the military camp of “negligence”.

Obiang was flanked at the ceremony by foreign dignitaries including Gabonese Prime Minister Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda.

Soldiers brought coffins draped with the Equatorial Guinean flag into the stadium while weeping families sheltered beneath tents displayed portraits of the dead.

Obiang declared three days of national mourning from March 10-12, with flags at half-mast.

Countries as far afield as Spain — Equatorial Guinea’s former colonial ruler — Israel, the US and Qatar have sent medical staff and equipment to Bata to help in the relief effort.

The city is home to around 800,000 of the 1.4 million total population in Equatorial Guinea, a state that enjoys oil and gas wealth but where most people live below the poverty line.

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