BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Congo Republic’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso was on course on Tuesday to extend his long rule, according to preliminary election results that the opposition dismissed as fraudulent as police and troops patrolled the capital’s streets.
Election commission president Henri Bouka told reporters that Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled Congo for 32 of the last 37 years, won 67 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election based on results from 72 of 111 voting districts.
The president of a coalition of opposition candidates, Charles Bowao, denounced the results in a statement as “partial, extravagant and totally detached from the reality on the ground.”
The opposition plans to publish its own results on Wednesday, an action the government says would be illegal.
Fearing riots, the government on Tuesday extended a communications blackout it says will help prevent unofficial results circulating and creating unrest.
The U.S. State Department said it had “received numerous reports of irregularities that have raised concerns about the credibility of the process”, urging authorities in a statement to restore communications.
In northern Brazzaville, where Sassou Nguesso is popular, supporters honked car horns and banged pots and pans to celebrate the commission’s announcement. But there was a heavy police and army presense in southern Brazzaville, an opposition stronghold.
Sassou Nguesso must win an outright majority against eight opposition candidates to avoid a run-off.
Former minister Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas was second in the preliminary results, with 16.8 percent. Remaining votes, including from the country’s economic capital and opposition stronghold Pointe Noire, are expected to take another day to collect.
There were no immediate reports of violence on Tuesday but many local residents had already left the city and most shops remained closed.
At least 18 people were killed by security forces in protests ahead of a referendum in October that removed term and age limits that would have prevented Sassou Nguesso from running again.
Voting was peaceful on Sunday but later police fired tear gas at crowds who had gathered to follow the count in the southern Bacongo neighborhood.
Congo’s election is being watched closely across Africa, where several long-ruling presidents are seeking to stay on beyond constitutionally mandated term limits.
In neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, opponents of President Joseph Kabila accuse him of trying to delay a presidential election scheduled for November. Kabila has declined to comment publicly on his political future.
Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Writing by Aaron Ross and Edward McAllister; Editing by Catherine Evans and John Stonestreet