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No Surprise in Rep. of Congo President's Victory - 2002-03-13

Final results from Sunday's presidential election in the Republic of Congo show an overwhelming victory for incumbent President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. The election was the first presidential poll to be held in the central African nation in 10 years.

The announcement of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso's victory came as no surprise to people in the Republic of Congo. Mr. Sassou-Nguesso ran largely unopposed after the other leading contender, Andre Milongo, withdrew from the election citing what he said was a lack of transparency in the poll.

Mr. Milongo called on his supporters to boycott the election.

Interior Minister Pierre Oba announced late Wednesday that Mr. Sassou-Nguesso had garnered more than 89 percent of the vote. The closest of his six challengers garnered under three percent of the vote. Denis Sassou-Nguesso has ruled the Republic of Congo as an interim leader since 1997, when he ousted elected President Pascal Lissouba in a military coup.

Mr. Sassou-Nguesso had earlier ruled the country from 1979 to 1992.

The voting on Sunday was carried out in a calm manner in the presence of more than 100 international observers.

Witnesses in the capital, Brazzaville, said turnout appeared to be low. The government on Wednesday said more than 74 percent of eligible voters had gone to the polls nationwide.

The election was Congo's first presidential poll in a decade. In that period, the country experienced three civil wars that killed at least 15,000 people. The first of the conflicts, in 1993, erupted over allegations of voter fraud in legislative elections. There has been peace in the country since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in 1999.

Many people credit Mr. Sassou-Nguesso with consolidating peace in Congo, an oil-rich nation of about three million people.

The presidential election is yet another step toward returning the country to democratic rule. It was carried out under the terms of a new constitution approved by a referendum in January.

The results announced Wednesday will become official once they are ratified by the Congolese supreme court.

Legislative and local elections are scheduled later this year.