BRAZZAVILLE Tension rose in Congo Republic ahead of a presidential election on Sunday after the government ordered phone companies to suspend services for security reasons and police summoned the main opposition candidate for questioning.
Opposition figures said the order on Saturday to phone companies MTN Congo and Airtel Congo to halt communications would impede the work of election monitors.
"The state wants them to cut off communication on March 20 and 21 for reasons of security and public tranquillity," a government source told Reuters.
There was no immediate comment from MTN.
President Denis Sassou Nguesso is expected to extend his long rule in the oil-producing nation by defeating eight opponents, including retired General Jean-Marie Mokoko who is seen as the strongest challenger.
Sassou Nguesso has led Congo Republic for 32 of the last 37 years and pushed through constitutional changes in October to remove term and age limits that would have prevented him from standing. He is expected to win given his entrenched control of state and local institutions and the media.
Mokoko said he was summoned to the state security headquarters on Saturday as part of an investigation but refused to go.
He told reporters at his house in Brazzaville that it was his sixth summons in the last month to answer questions about a 2007 video that recently resurfaced, in which he appears to discuss preparations for a coup.
Mokoko said there was no serious coup plot and the issue was resolved years ago. "It's an abuse of power ... Maybe they will now take me by force. Let them do it," he said.
Opposition candidates have previously said the government would shut down communications to prevent the circulation of polling data that contradicts official tallies.
"Everything is being done so that the election is not transparent," said Joe Washington, president of the Ebina Foundation, an activist group.
The government denies it is preparing election fraud and says publishing alternate results is illegal and aimed at inciting post-election chaos.
(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; editing by David Clarke)