Fri Dec 09 07:45:55 CAT 2016

Congo opposition urges 'peaceful' protest of president's re-election

AFP | 2016-03-27 09:30:50.0
Congo Prepublic President Denis Sassou Nguesso speaks during a news conference at Carthage Palace in Tunis in this January 22, 2015 file photo. Nguesso has won re-election with 60.39 percent of the vote, extending his 32-year rule of the oil-producing country, the interior minister said.
Image by: ANIS MILI / Reuters

Five defeated opposition candidates in Congo's recent presidential poll called on their countrymen to challenge the re-election of President Denis Sassou Nguesso through "peaceful" and legal actions, according to a statement.

Sassou Nguesso was declared the winner of the March 20 elections held under a media blackout, extending his 32 years in power in a vote the opposition says was marked by "massive fraud".

AFP received confirmation Saturday that the rallying call was signed by runner-up Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas who received more than 15 percent of votes cast, third-place candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko who polled nearly 14 percent, and candidates Claudine Munari, Andre Okombi Salissa and Pascal Tsaty Mabiala.

They called for a repeat of the "ville morte" (dead city) national strikes in which some Congolese have participated in recent months to protest Sassou Nguesso's controversial bid for a third term.

In their statement, they also described the contested circumstances of last week's election in which Sassou Nguesso was named the winner with 60 percent of the votes just hours after the polls closed as "an abuse of power".

"We urge the Congolese people to fully exercise their sovereignty over a democratic victory through elections recognised by law: dead cities and other strikes, meetings and peaceful marches, until the verdict of the ballot boxes is respected," they wrote.

They called for a first post-election strike on March 29 after the Easter holiday weekend.

The European Union had refused to send election observers to monitor the polls, saying conditions had not been met for a transparent and democratic vote.

And on Saturday the Socialist Party of French President Francois Hollande issued a statement saying the election results were "not credible" and denounced the lack of transparency in the electoral process in the former French colony.

Oil- and timber-rich Congo has been on edge since an October constitutional referendum that ended a two-term limit on presidential mandates, allowing Sassou Nguesso, a 72-year-old former paratrooper colonel, to run for office again.

Critics accuse him of rampant corruption and nepotism, blasting the referendum result as a "constitutional coup".

Contacted by AFP, Congolese government spokesman Thierry Moungalla said the opposition's decision to contest the results in the Constitutional Court was "a responsible move", but as for strikes or other mass actions he noted the opposition had tried that after the October referendum without much success.

He added that the country's people wanted a return to "normal life".

From Tuesday onwards the interior ministry will deposit the official election results at the Constitutional Court which has 15 days to validate them and to hear challenges from the opposition.

Sassou Nguesso served as president from 1979 to 1992 and returned to power in 1997 following a civil war. He won two successive terms in 2002 and 2009, but both elections were contested by opposition parties.

Congo recorded growth of five percent over the five years to 2014 but the vast majority of the population lives in abject poverty.

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