February 13, 2016 / 9:26 PM / 3 years ago

Congo Republic ex-army chief to run in March presidential polls

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - A former army chief in Congo Republic on Saturday declared his intention to run against veteran President Denis Sassou Nguesso just a month ahead of presidential polls, in a challenge to one of Africa’s longest ruling leaders.

General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, 69, a power broker in the former French colony’s 1990s civil war, announced his candidacy in the capital Brazzaville at a packed conference center.

However, it remains to be seen whether Mokoko can present a significant challenge to 72-year-old Sassou Nguesso who has ruled the oil producer for 31 of the past 36 years in two spells and is widely seen as the favorite to win the March 20 polls.

“I decided to take the side of the people by presenting myself as a candidate for election,” Mokoko, dressed in a dark blue suit, said on Saturday as supporters from a crowd of more than 1,000 people chanted “Moses, our savior”.

A graduate of France’s prestigious Saint-Cyr military school, Mokoko gained international credit for his role as head of an African Union peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic in 2014. Most recently, he served as a security adviser to Sassou-Nguesso before retiring last year.

So far, at least 10 candidates have put themselves forward for the election although they have yet to be validated by the constitutional court.

Sassou Nguesso’s control of state resources and security, divisions in the opposition as well as strong support from his Mbochi ethnic group are seen as the main factors in the incumbent’s favor.

In October, Sassou Nguesso won by more than 90 percent a referendum on constitutional changes allowing him to seek a third consecutive mandate.

Most opposition parties boycotted the vote in protest against a crackdown by security forces on demonstrators that killed at least four people.

Some analysts fear street violence again next month. Bids by other veteran African leaders to extend their time in office, including Burundi and Burkina Faso, have also sparked unrest.

Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Dominic Evans

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