Congo opposition urges protest of president's re-election

Four 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" legal means, according to a statement confirmed by AFP Saturday.

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".

The rallying call was signed by runner-up Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas who received more than 15% of votes cast, third-place candidate Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko who polled nearly 14%, and candidates Claudine Munari and Andre Okombi Salissa.

The four called for a repeat of the 'ville morte' national strikes in which many 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% 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.

The declaration's four signatories were also part of an "opposition charter" signed ahead of the election with the intention of blocking Sassou Nguesso's re-election.

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

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".

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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