Over 90% vote to allow Congo leader's bid to extend rule

Veteran Congo ruler Denis Sassou Nguesso and his government on Tuesday claimed a landslide victory in a referendum on changes to the constitution that would make him eligible to contest elections next year (AFP Photo/Thierry Charlier)

Brazzaville (AFP) - More than 90 percent of people voting in a controversial referendum in the Republic of Congo approved a bid by President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his 31-year stay in office, according to official results announced on Tuesday.

A total of 92.96 percent of voters approved the constitutional change, which has now been adopted, Interior Minister Raymond Mboulou said.

Official results showed turnout was high at 72.44 percent, though on Monday opposition leader Pascal Tsaty Mabiala had said only 10 percent of Congolese voted.

According to reports by several AFP journalists in the capital Brazzaville, second city Pointe-Noire and several other areas of the central African country, people largely avoided voting offices.

There were however long queues of voters near the presidential palace where Sassou Nguesso, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, cast his own ballot.

The referendum proposed two changes to the constitution, which currently disqualifies Sassou Nguesso from running for re-election in 2016 because it stipulates a maximum age of 70 for presidential candidates and limits the number of mandates to two.

Sassou Nguesso is over the age limit and has already served two consecutive seven-year terms.