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Republic of Congo heads to polls amid communications blackout

The Republic of Congo has held a presidential vote, with President Denis Sassou N'Guesso likely to be re-elected. Telephone communication has been cut across the central African state during the election.

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Republic Of Congo presidential election promises little change

Voters in the Republic of Congo on Sunday had between 7 a.m. (0600 UTC) and 6 p.m. local time to vote in the presidential election.

Riot police used tear gas to disperse around 200 opposition supporters after the vote ended. The protesters were trying to enter a polling station in the south of the capital Brazzaville, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

President Denis Sassou N'Guesso (pictured above) was widely expected to win the vote against eight opponents, including retired General Jean-Marie Mokoko.

N'Guesso has ruled over the oil-rich country for all but five of the last 37 years. He cemented his return to power in 1997 by commanding rebel forces in the country's civil war.

Communications blackout

Ahead of the tense election,

Interior Minister Raymond Zephirin Mboulou ordered a 48-hour communications

blackout, instructing the country's two main telecommunications providers to block all telephone, Internet and SMS services for "reasons of security and national safety." There is, however, a list of telephone numbers that will continue to receive service, the AP news agency reported.

Rights activists slammed the government's move. "Everything is being done so that the election is not transparent," according to Joe Washington, president of the Ebina Foundation activist group.

Blocking communications on election day is nothing new in Africa, with Uganda also taking similar measures in its February election by prohibiting access to Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

Police summons chief rival Mokoko

On the eve of Sunday's election, N'Guesso's main rival, retired General Jean-Marie Mokoko, received another summons to appear before the police. The former general's campaign office accused the government of trying to quash Mokoko's bid for power.

Mokoko was a longtime ally of N'Guesso, serving as the Congo's military chief-of-staff for the last five years of N'Guesso's first stint in power. He had been the president's advisor on peace and security since 2005, until resigning from the post on February 3. Five days later the 69-year-old Mokoko declared himself a presidential candidate.

Police first brought him in for questioning last month after a video emerged on the Internet allegedly implicating Mokoko in an attempted coup. His campaign organizers have dismissed the video as a fake, claiming the footage was shot sometime in the early 2000s. It only appeared shortly after Mokoko held his first campaign rally on February 13.

N'Guesso himself is only eligible for another term in office due to a violence-backed referendum in October which removed term limits and age restrictions in the Republic of Congo's elections. His actual birth date is unclear, though he appears to have been born in 1943, making him 72 or 73.

ksb/jlw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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