Masses brave Congo Brazzaville clampdown

2015-10-20 19:58
Denis Sassou Nguesso (File, AFP)

Denis Sassou Nguesso (File, AFP)

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Brazzaville - At least eight people were hurt by gunfire and teargas in Congo's capital on Tuesday when protesters braved a government clampdown and took to the streets to protest the president's bid for a third term in office.

The clashes in Brazzaville erupted after authorities banned a planned protest rally against a referendum on Sunday on President Denis Sassou Nguesso's quest to extend his three-decade stay in office.

The referendum proposes to increase the maximum age of presidential candidates from 70 currently and scrap a rule limiting the maximum number of seven-year terms to two.

Hours before the rally was due to start, the president's office said in a message broadcast on radio and TV that people were expected to work "as normal" on Tuesday and that gatherings were therefore "banned".

But shops remained shuttered and schools and offices were closed across most of the city as young protesters took to the streets and torched tyres in protest in Brazzaville's southern district of Makelekele and western district of Bacongo.

Police opened fire several times.

Sources at Makelekele hospital said seven people were treated for injuries, five with serious gunshot wounds and two hurt by teargas grenades.

An AFP correspondent saw another person being brought to the hospital after being shot in the abdomen.

Internet cut

Makelekele's police station was torched as were two others west of the city centre, witnesses said.

Local residents said police fired teargas at the rioters from helicopters.

No immediate comment was available from the police.

Mobile internet services and text messages were cut early in the day in Brazzaville, along with the signal of France's Radio France Internationale, one of the most popular broadcasters in the country.

Protests also erupted in Pointe-Noire, the economic capital and hub of the impoverished country's oil industry.

Sporadic shots were heard throughout the day but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

In Brazzaville, police were busy clearing the main avenue linking the city centre to Makelekele and Bacongo of piles of burnt tyres and upended stalls used by the protesters as barricades.

Sunday's referendum amendment would allow Sassou Nguesso, who was returned to power in 1997 elections after a brief but bloody civil war, seeking a third term.

"Sassoufit"

The former Marxist soldier also ruled Congo from 1979 to 1992.

The referendum has been branded by the opposition as a "constitutional coup d'etat", and the international community too has voiced concern.

The constitution currently bars the 72-year-old from running again because of his age and the ban on more than two seven-year terms. Both points are to be put to a popular vote on Sunday.

In the last presidential poll in 2009, Sassou-Nguesso officially took nearly 79% of the votes. Half of his 12 rivals boycotted the election.

Tens of thousands of the president's supporters staged a rally on Saturday in favour of the constitutional changes.

The turnout dwarfed the size of an anti-government demonstration late last month, when several thousand people poured onto the capital's streets to protest against the president's plan to cling to power.

They had rallied under the cry "Sassoufit", a pun on the French expression for "that's enough".

Read more on:    denis sassou nguesso  |  congo  |  central africa

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