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Congo Election Proceeds Despite Boycott

Voters in the Republic of Congo are going to the polls Sunday for the first round of presidential elections. The election, which is the first in ten years that have been marked by political and ethnic strife, are taking place amid calls for a boycott by the opposition.

The election is going ahead without the man considered the main opposition candidate, Andre Milongo. Mr. Milongo officially dropped out of the race on Saturday, citing what he said is a lack of transparency in the elections. He called on his supporters to boycott Sunday's poll.

Mr. Milongo complained, among other things, that opposition parties were not allowed to have observers present at the polls. The commission in charge of organizing the elections on Saturday said all of the opposition's demands had been met.

Mr. Milongo was the third opposition candidate to withdraw from the elections, leaving a total of six opponents to run against incumbent President Denis Sassou-Nguesso in the first round.

Mr. Sassou-Nguesso, who came to power in a 1997 military coup, is widely expected to win the first round.

Witnesses in the capital, Brazzaville, said the voting on Sunday began without incident. More than 100 international observers are watching over the polls.

The commission in charge of organizing Sunday's elections says early results from the first round are expected late Monday.

In the 10 years since the last presidential elections, Congo has experienced three civil conflicts that killed at least 15-thousand people. There has been peace in the country since 1999, when warring factions signed a ceasefire agreement.

Under the terms of a constitution approved by a referendum in January, the newly elected president is to serve a maximum of two, seven-year terms.