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Voter Turnout Low in Republic of Congo


On Sunday, the Republic of Congo held its second presidential election since the civil war that erupted in 1997, but voter turnout appeared low after an opposition boycott.

Incumbent president Denis Sassou-Nguesso faced 12 challengers in his run for a second seven-year term on Sunday, a race many expect him to win.

Despite concerns the election could unleash a new round of conflict and civil unrest in the country, very few incidents of violence were reported. Yet many polling places appeared empty, after four opposition candidates called for a boycott in a vote they said was already tainted.

Opposition candidates said the boycott was well-respected, and a lot of registered voters did not go to the polls.

Opposition candidates had called for election day to be moved because of irregularities in voter lists. They pointed to electoral lists they said included the names of dead people, fictitious voters, minors, and foreigners.

They had also demanded the replacement of the National Elections Organization Committee, the same group that conducted the country's 2007 parliamentary elections and 2008 local elections, which were denounced for fraud by observers from the African Union.

Mr. Sasso-Nguesso has been president all but five years in the past three decades.

He first took power in a 1979 coup before losing in a multi-party election in 1992. He seized power again in 1997 and won a landslide victory in the 2002 presidential elections from which key rivals were either banned or withdrew.

There were 13 candidates on Sunday's ballot. Four others had been disqualified by the Constitutional Court in June, including main opposition candidate, Ange Edouard Poungui, who said the decision was politically motivated.

Previous elections have opened the door to violence and instability in the Republic of Congo. Bracing for Sunday's vote, some Congolese were setting money aside or leaving the capital Brazzaville altogether, where opposition candidates had organized protests.

In 1993, disputed parliamentary elections spiraled into bloody, ethnic-based fighting between pro-government forces and the opposition. Tensions flared up again in 1997, also an election year, eventually exploding into a full-scale civil war that killed thousands and displaced about a quarter of the population.

The former French colony is one of sub-Saharan Africa's main oil producers, though most of its four million people live in poverty.

Results of Sunday's election are expected in the coming days or weeks.

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