Congo reshuffle drops ministers against constitution change

Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso has been in power since 1997 (AFP Photo/Thierry Charlier)

Brazzaville (AFP) - Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso announced Monday a major cabinet reshuffle that excludes two minsters who opposed a change to the constitution that would allow the long-serving head of state to run for a third term.

Commerce minister Claudine Munari and civil service minister Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas were removed from the government, according to a statement read on state radio and television by the president's chief of staff Firmin Ayessa.

In July the pair joined the main opposition coalition to stand against a constitutional change that would allow Sassou Nguesso, 72, to seek a new mandate in the 2016 elections.

Sassou Nguesso had convened a "national dialogue" which came out "by a large majority" in favour of amending the constitution to remove an upper limit on the age of presidential candidates as well as the number of terms the head of state can serve, effectively paving the way for him to stand for a third term.

The reshuffle saw two new figures join the government: Euloge Kolelas Landry, brother of the ousted civil service minister, was appointed to the commerce ministry, and Jean-Marc Thystere Tchicaya, who has been appointed as head of the oil ministry.

The new cabinet has 35 members, down from 37 previously, while the number of women dropped from four to three.

Sassou Nguesso first led the Republic of Congo under a single-party system from 1979 until the introduction of multi-party politics, which culminated in elections that he lost in 1992.

He returned to power in 1997 at the end of a bitter civil war, and was elected president in 2002, then again in 2009, prompting cries of fraud from his foes.