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Opposition Supporters Tear-Gassed as Congo Polls Close

  • VOA News

Voters are seen at a polling station during presidential elections in Makelele, Brazzaville, March 20, 2016. Congo began voting on March 20 under a media blackout, in a tense ballot expected to see President Denis Sassou Nguesso prolong his 32-year rule

Voters are seen at a polling station during presidential elections in Makelele, Brazzaville, March 20, 2016. Congo began voting on March 20 under a media blackout, in a tense ballot expected to see President Denis Sassou Nguesso prolong his 32-year rule

Riot police in the Republic of Congo fired tear gas at opposition supporters after polls for the country's presidential election closed Sunday.

Dozens of heavily armed police chased away people gathered outside polling stations in the capital, Brazzaville, as the vote count began in elections expected to see longtime leader Denis Sassou Nguesso extend his three-decade rule.

On the eve of the vote, the government ordered telecom providers to block all service during the vote.

Congo's Interior Minister Raymond Zephirin Mboulou sent a letter to the country's two main telecom firms, saying that for reasons of national security, they were to block all communication, including text messages, on both Sunday and Monday.

The letter, copies of which have appeared online, also refers to a list of numbers that will continue to receive communication during the vote.

FILE - President of the Republic of Congo Denis Sassou N'Guesso arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Sept. 20, 2002. N'guesso seeks to extend his already three decades in power in elections Sunday.

FILE - President of the Republic of Congo Denis Sassou N'Guesso arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Sept. 20, 2002. N'guesso seeks to extend his already three decades in power in elections Sunday.

The order could raise tensions in the country where Sassou Nguesso ran for re-election against eight opponents, including former general Jean-Marie Mokoko.

Mokoko, who is seen as the president's strongest challenger, was summoned to police headquarters in Brazzaville Saturday for unspecified reasons.

The 71-year-old Sassou Nguesso has ruled Congo for 32 of the last 37 years.

Last October, he pushed through a constitutional change that eliminated a two-term limit and an age limit of 70 for presidential candidates.

The opposition boycotted the referendum in which the change was approved and said turnout for that vote was in the single digits.

Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.

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