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Sunday, 10 March, 2002, 12:41 GMT
One-man race in Congo poll
Voters look for their names on the register list outside a polling station in Brazzaville
Congo does not want to go back to war years
Voting has got off to a slow start in Congo-Brazzaville - the Republic of Congo - in a presidential election which the military ruler, General Denis Sassou-Nguesso, looks certain to win.

His main opponent, Andre Milongo, withdrew from the race on Friday, saying that the poll was being rigged.

Andre Milongo
Milongo: "Fraud is the national sport of Congo"
Two other candidates have also pulled out of the race recently, leaving no credible challengers to the incumbent.

General Sassou-Nguesso first came to power in a military coup in 1979 and lost an election in 1992, but grabbed back power from the elected President Pascal Lissouba in 1997, after a civil war.

Addressing thousands of supporters of his Union for Democracy and the Republic party, Andre Milongo said that the election result had already been fixed by General Sassou Nguesso.

Denis Sassou Nguesso
Sassou Nguesso: Accused of rigging elections

"Fraud is the national sport of Congo," Mr Milongo said.

Party members had been refused the right to observe the voting process, he alleged, and in some parts of the country only half the ballot papers had been printed with Mr Milongo's name on them.

Later, in an interview with BBC News Online, Mr Milongo explained he had asked the government to delay the polls to allow such problems to be worked out.

But he did not expect a reply.

"The regime just does not want us to take part," he said.

Disorganised

International election observers are yet to make a statement on Mr Milongo's claims, and those of other opposition leaders and supporters, who say President Sassou has used the full resources and influence of the state to get himself re-elected.

Officials blame disorganisation rather than fraud and say that anyone with a valid voter card will be allowed to vote in the country's second ever presidential poll.

Some of those who have already cast their ballot say they have done so to guarantee the peaceful future of the country.

The Congolese remember the trouble that started 10 years ago after the last presidential election, when Denis Sassou Nguesso was voted out of power and war broke out.

See also:

11 Aug 00 | Africa
Congo Brazzaville's 'peace train'
06 Aug 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Congo's glimmer of hope
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