BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguesso has won a new five-year term with over 60 percent of the vote, the interior minister said on Thursday, but the opposition rejected the outcome, alleging fraud and calling for civil disobedience.
Residents said Brazzaville, capital of the oil-producing Central African nation where Sassou Nguesso has ruled for all but five of the past 37 years, was quiet but tense as police and soldiers patrolled the streets.
In the economic hub of Pointe Noire, an opposition stronghold, police fired in the air near the Tchi Tchi market to disperse a crowd that had gathered, a witness said. It was not immediately clear who was in the crowd.
The government lifted a blackout of telephone and Internet communications imposed for Sunday’s vote, a measure it said aimed to prevent unofficial election results circulating and causing unrest.
Sassou Nguesso came to power in 1979 and governed the Congo Republic until 1992, when he lost an election. He regained power in 1997 after a civil war and then won elections in 2002 and 2009 amid allegations of fraud.
The constitution was changed by referendum last year, lifting term and age limits that would have excluded him from running again.
Announcing the results on state television in the early hours of Thursday, Interior Minister Raymond Zephyrin Mboulou said opposition leader Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas finished a distant second with 15 percent of the vote.
Retired general Jean-Marie Mokoko, a former security adviser to Sassou Nguesso, came third with 14 percent, Mboulou said.
A coalition of five opposition candidates said on Wednesday that its own results showed Sassou Nguesso headed for defeat. It was expected to provide its own vote tally Friday.
“I ask you to claim your stolen and confiscated vote,” Mokoko said in a statement on Thursday, potentially setting the stage for street protests.
At least 18 people were killed by security forces during opposition demonstrations ahead of October’s constitutional referendum.
Mokoko also directed his remarks at Congo’s armed forces: “We are a public and republican force in service of the people toward whom we have duties and obligations.”
Three journalists from the French newspaper Le Monde and Agence France Presse were beaten up as they left an opposition news conference on Wednesday by four men in civilian attire, Le Monde’s director said in a statement.
The assailants, who identified themselves as police, also seized the journalists’ passports and equipment, he said.
A government spokesman was not available for comment.
Sassou Nguesso’s supporters credit him with restoring stability and developing infrastructure, and he campaigned on promises including a commitment to spend a quarter of the budget on education to tackle high youth unemployment.
His critics say that Congo’s oil wealth has enriched and entrenched a small elite, while around half of the population of 4.5 million lives in poverty.
Congo’s election has been watched closely across Africa, where several long-ruling presidents are trying to remove constitutionally mandated term limits so that they can stay in power.
Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Joe Bavier and Mark Heinrich