Protests, phones cut in Congo vote unrest

  • 21/03/2016
Denis Sassou Nguesso (Reuters)
Denis Sassou Nguesso (Reuters)

Police have fired tear gas at opposition supporters in Congo Republic, witnesses say, after voting ended in a poll expected to see long-time leader Denis Sassou Nguesso extend his three-decade rule.

The government ordered mobile phone and internet services cut on Sunday (local time) across the central African country "for reasons of security and public tranquillity", a government official said.

It also banned motor vehicle use nationwide.

Despite protests in which at least 18 demonstrators died, Mr Sassou Nguesso pushed through constitutional changes in October to remove term and age limits that would have prevented him standing again.

He is now heavily favoured to defeat his eight opponents, including retired General Jean-Marie Mokoko, who is seen as the strongest challenger.

"I want this to go well. I don't want war, which is often what happens after these elections," said Damien Kiongazi, who returned home to the capital, Brazzaville, from Paris to vote.

However, soon after polling stations closed, security forces moved in on crowds that had gathered in the capital's Bacongo neighbourhood, an opposition stronghold.

Witnesses -- who said they had been following the vote counting -- were then tear-gassed by riot police.

Mr Sassou Nguesso, who ruled from 1979 until he lost an election in 1992, regained power in 1997 after a brief civil war and then went on to win disputed polls in 2002 and 2009.