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article imageClashes, arrests in Congo after day of deadly protest

By AFP     Oct 21, 2015 in World

Demonstrators and security forces clashed for a second day in Congo's capital Wednesday in unrest triggered by the president's bid to extend his three-decade stay in office.

Calm returned to the city late Wednesday after youths took to the streets in western Brazzaville in the morning in an apparent bid to throw up barricades as security forces fired rounds of tear gas grenades to hold them back.

Authorities said at least four people had been killed in unrest the previous day in Brazzaville and the country's economic capital Pointe-Noire.

But opposition leader Paul-Marie Mpouele said at least 20 people had died.

For the second day running, mobile Internet, text messaging services and French radio RFI's signal were cut throughout the city.

The country has been rocked by weeks of protests ahead of a planned referendum on Sunday to amend the constitution that would enable veteran ruler Denis Sassou Nguesso to remain in office.

In Paris, French President Francois Hollande urged his Congolese counterpart to "calm" tensions.

"Denis Sassou Nguesso can consult his people, it is his right and the people must respond," he told a press conference in Paris, saying it was vital to ease tensions.

- Opposition figures arrested -

Map locating violent clashes in Congo capital Brazzaville
Map locating violent clashes in Congo capital Brazzaville

The opposition said six of its officials had been arrested in Brazzaville as they prepared to give a news conference.

All six were members of the Republican Front for the Respect of Constitutional Order and Democratic Change (FROCAD), one of the two groups opposing the referendum.

"It's up to the president to appease Congo," FROCAD's Mpouele told journalists, saying Sassou Nguesso should cancel the referendum which proposes changing the constitution to increase the maximum age of presidential candidates, currently 70, and scrapping a rule that limits the number of seven-year terms to two.

Sassou Nguesso, 72, cannot run for a new term because of his age and the fact he has already served two seven-year terms.

Speaking late on Tuesday, Interior Minister Raymond Mboulou said the unrest -- which he described as an "organised and coordinated insurrection" -- had left three people dead in Brazzaville and another in Pointe-Noire, the country's economic capital and its second city.

"Symbols of the republic, such as the headquarters of the police (or) the gendarmerie, were targeted," he said.

- 'Peaceful popular insurrection' -

President Denis Sassou Nguesso was elected into office in 1997 and had previously ruled Congo from 1...
President Denis Sassou Nguesso was elected into office in 1997 and had previously ruled Congo from 1979 to 1992
Thierry Charlier, AFP

Pascal Tsaty Mabiala, a leader of the main opposition PanAfrican Union for Social Democracy, called Tuesday for "a peaceful popular insurrection" to prevent the referendum from taking place.

Speaking by phone, Public Works Minister Emile Ouosso who has led the campaign for a "yes" to the referendum claimed he had been "taken hostage" for nearly five hours by "activists opposed to changing the constitution".

Sassou Nguesso was president from 1979 to 1992. He then served as opposition leader and returned to power at the end of a brief civil war in 1997 in which his rebel forces ousted president Pascal Lissouba.

He was elected president in 2002, then again in 2009, when he won nearly 79 percent 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 which means "that's enough".

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