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Congo Elections: Police disperse opposition supporters as vote counting begins

Congo Elections: Police disperse opposition supporters as vote counting begins

Republic of the Congo

Police dispersed opposition supporters in Congo on Sunday after voting ended in a poll that is expected to see long-time leader Denis Sassou Nguesso extend his three-decade rule.

Witnesses who said they had been following the vote counting were tear-gassed by riot police as security forces moved in on crowds that had gathered in the capital’s Bacongo neighbourhood, an opposition stronghold.

The government ordered mobile phone and internet services to be cut on Sunday across the oil-producing Central African country “for reasons of security and public tranquillity,” as voting kicked off. Congo’s government also banned motor vehicle use nationwide.

Despite protests in which at least 18 demonstrators died, Sassou Nguesso pushed through constitutional changes in an October referendum to remove term and age limits that would have prevented him from standing again. He is now heavily favoured to win the polls.

He faces eight opponents, including retired General Jean-Marie Mokoko, seen as the strongest challenger.

The opposition said on Friday it had documented preparations for widespread vote rigging, including voters registered at multiple polling sites, individuals with multiple voter cards and the distribution of voter cards to non-citizens.

The government rejected accusations it was preparing to cheat, claiming its opponents were laying the groundwork for post-election chaos.