Africa soccer Cup starts, Togo hope to join later
Though overshadowed by the deaths of a Togo squad coach and a press officer in Friday's gun attack in Cabinda, the African Nations Cup began as planned in a 50,000-seat stadium in the Angolan capital Luanda.
A spectacular fireworks display lit up the purpose-built stadium, whose rims bend like the horns of the black sable antelope -- Angola's national symbol.
Soccer fans observed a minute of silence as a sign of respect for the Togolese and their driver, who was killed at the scene, before hosts Angola and Mali kicked off the tournament.
Togo's players and head coach, although shocked by the attack staged by separatist rebels, had said they would remain in the competition to honour the dead. However, Prime Minister Gilbert Houngbo ordered the team home and sent a plane to bring them back.
The team landed in Togolese capital Lome late on Sunday, where Houngbo greeted the players, who brought with them two coffins. The players were also met by families of the dead men.
Earlier Houngbo said it would be wrong to let the team stay in Angola and take part. "Anybody that is involved in security matters will tell you that it would be irresponsible to just pretend that nothing has happened and just let the show go on," he told the BBC World Service. "Security is non-negotiable."
Togo striker and captain Emmanuel Adebayor told reporters at Cabinda airport: "We have to mourn our dead, we're going back to do so, that's life and we're obviously very sad."
Togolese Sports Minister Christophe Tchao added to the uncertainty by telling reporters in Cabinda that Togo had asked the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to find a way for the team to rejoin the competition later.
"We have ordered a three-day mourning," Tchao said. "The players are leaving with the bodies of their fallen brothers and we have asked the CAF to find an arrangement so we can catch up with the competition later."
Team media officer Stanislas Ocloo, assistant coach Amalete Abalo and a driver were killed when gunmen from the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) fired on the team bus in Cabinda, an oil-producing enclave separated from the rest of Angola.
Seven people were wounded including reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale, who is now in stable condition in a South African hospital after surgery.
Friday's ambush shows how easily insurgents can grab world headlines with attacks on soft targets and raises questions about security for the soccer World Cup in South Africa in June. However, South African President Jacob Zuma dismissed any comparison.
The attack by a separatist group, which Angola's government recently said no longer existed, cast a shadow over an event supposed to show Angola at peace after years of civil war.
Angola has spent $1 billion building stadiums, roads and hotels for the competition, which brings together Africa's best national teams. The biennial tournament, which lasts until January 31, is being broadcast live around the world.
Cabinda, the scene of rebel FLEC attacks even after Angola's 27-year civil war ended in 2002, provides half the oil output of the country, which rivals Nigeria as Africa's biggest producer.
South Africa's Zuma, who attended the opening ceremony, stressed on arrival that his country remained 100 per cent ready to host the World Cup, and said the Angolan attack had no bearing on the tournament in South Africa.
It was the second militant attack on a sports team in a year. In March, six policemen and a driver died when gunmen attacked a bus carrying Sri Lanka's cricket team in Pakistan.
Despite South African assurances, security analysts said outsiders involved in June's World Cup are unlikely to ignore the Angolan attack and will want to review security.
South Africa is the first African nation to hold the world's biggest single-sport event.
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