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Congo referendum passes allowing president to extend rule

Despite reports of low voter turnout, a constitutional referendum in the Congo Republic passed with a sweeping 92 percent. The changes to the constitution allow President Nguesso to extend his 31-year stay in office.

In a statement transmitted via radio, the Congo Republic's electoral commission reported Tuesday that a

constitutional referendum

passed with 92.26 percent of the vote, effectively allowing President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his 31-year stay in office.

The referendum proposed two changes to the constitution so that the 71-year-old Nguesso could run for a third term in office.

In its pre-referendum form, the constitution limited presidents to two terms in office with a maximum age limit of 70 years.

Voter turnout contested

The electoral commission added that 72.44 percent of the country's registered voters had turned out for Sunday's referendum.

However, the official tally for voter turnout contrasts reports from opposition lawmakers, who say that only 10 percent of Congolese voters cast ballots.

Opposition leader Pascal Tsasty Mabiala said the low voter turnout was a "slap in the face" of the Congolese president.

"It totally discredits the referendum. Either they annul it or else he will impose a dictatorship and the Congolese will not accept it," Tsaty told Reuters news agency.

"After everything we've gone through; harassment, arrests, abuse, unbelievable violence…we will continue our civil disobedience," Tsaty added.

Pre-election violence

Pre-election violence between police and demonstrators

opposing the referendum left at least four dead and 10 injured.

President Nguesso has ruled the country for 31 of the last 36 years. In 1992, Nguesso was defeated in a presidential election after assuming power in 1979.

However, he took power again in 1997 following a brief civil war in which his forces defeated then-President Pascal Lissouba.

The Congo Republic's next presidential election is slated for 2016.

ls/kms (Reuters, AFP)

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