Communications cut as Congo leader seeks to extend 32-year rule

Laudes Martial Mbon

Brazzaville (AFP) - Communications lines were cut in Congo for a second day and business was slack, hit by fears of post-election trouble as the country waited to see if President Denis Sassou Nguesso will keep his grip on power.

The streets of the capital, Brazzaville, were less crowded than usual and there was little traffic on major roads linking the city's north-south quarters, an AFP reporter said.

The head of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) told the media that vote counting had been completed and the nationwide results were in the process of being tabulated, without indicating when they might be announced.

Government spokesman Thierry Moungalla told AFP the results of Sassou Nguesso's bid to extend his 32-year rule will be announced "in a few hours, or a few days".

Government offices remained open Monday but business was slow at the city's biggest market, which sells everything from computers to caterpillars and traditional charms.

"People are scared, scared of the result," said a taxi driver.

Inside the market, a coconut seller said "there haven't been too many people... people are scared the results will be released today and there could be tensions".

Congolese authorities shut down telephone and Internet links during the Sunday vote and on Monday for "reasons of security and national safety".

But Charles Zacharie Bowao, coordinator of the CTE opposition alliance, said the coalition was compiling results itself, based on reports from counting centres.

According to their count opposition candidate Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas said he was "far, very far ahead in Brazzaville".

- Poverty, squalor, unemployment -

Tensions have been high since an October constitutional referendum that ended a two-term limit on presidential mandates, allowing 72-year-old former paratrooper colonel Sassou Nguesso to run for office again.

The vote also removed a 70-year age limit for the presidency that could have forced one of Africa's five longest-serving leaders to step down.

But Sunday's vote passed off largely peacefully, aside from an incident when police tear-gassed 200 opposition supporters demanding to be let into a polling station to observe the counting.

Sassou Nguesso has said he has no doubt he will beat his eight rivals, describing election day as a "penalty kick and then victory".

On Friday, five rival presidential contenders -- including former military chief Jean-Marie Mokoko -- signed an agreement to back the strongest candidate among them in the event of a second round vote.

Sassou Nguesso is accused by critics of rampant corruption and nepotism in the oil and timber-rich country, which saw growth of five percent over the five years to 2014 but remains in dire straits.

Unemployment hit 34 percent in 2013, the last data available, and stood at 60 percent for 15 to 24-year-olds. The IMF fears "domestic instability" without progress in the battle to eliminate poverty.

In the run-up to the vote, Sassou Nguesso acknowledged that youth unemployment was a problem, saying 60 percent of graduates from the country's sole university were jobless.

"Seven years were insufficient to fully make these solutions operational... which is why we need to continue the country's modernisation and industrialisation," his platform said.

But a large section of the population lives in grinding poverty, lacking basic amenities.

Sassou Nguesso served as president from 1979 to 1992 and returned to power in 1997 following a civil war. He won two successive mandates in 2002 and 2009, but both tallies were contested by opposition parties.