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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 12:55 GMT
Congo's leader heads for re-election
Denis Sassou Nguesso casts his vote
A team from the EU is monitoring the elections
Congo's military ruler, Denis Sassou Nguesso, is well ahead of his rivals in the country's presidential election, according to early partial results.

With under a third of ballots counted, Congo's state television credited General Sassou Nguesso with support of at least 80% in several key areas.

Denis Sassou Nguesso
Sassou Nguesso: Accused of rigging elections

The general has been expected to win Sunday's election, after the main opposition candidate withdrew complaining of fraud and called for a boycott.

Turnout in many parts of the capital, Brazzaville, was low.

All vehicles were barred from using the roads. All shops, restaurants and markets were told to stay shut. So those who took this historic opportunity did so in unusual peace and tranquillity.

Voters stay away

But even with the streets practically empty the polling stations themselves were some of the quietest places to spend the day.

Turnout got off to a slow start and remained that way for much of Sunday. Only once the temperature had dropped late in the afternoon did more people make their way to the nearest school or municipal office to cast their votes.

Some voters blamed the low attendance on disorganisation saying many names had been left off the role.

Others, who are opposition supporters, said they were following the advice of their leader, Andre Milongo, and were boycotting the election.

Fears of violence

Mr Milongo pulled out of the race on Friday saying Mr Sassou Nguesso had rigged the vote in advance.

His supporters deny this and said people would vote for him because he guarantees the peace and stability of the country.

The last presidential elections in Congo held in 1992 were followed by a decade of extremely violent civil wars. Even Mr Sassou Nguesso's harshest critics say their priority is to avoid history repeating itself and there is widespread relief that the elections passed off peacefully.

See also:

10 Mar 02 | Africa
Congo poll lacks key candidate
10 Mar 02 | Africa
One-man race in Congo poll
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Republic of Congo
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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