March 23, 2016 / 6:38 AM / in 2 years

Congo's Sassou Nguesso leading in presidential poll

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Congo Republic’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso held a clear lead in Sunday’s election to extend his long rule, preliminary results showed on Tuesday, as an internet and phone blackout was extended into a third day.

Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Tunisia's President Beji Caid Essebsi at Carthage Palace in Tunis January 22, 2015. Sassou Nguesso is in Tunisia on a two-day visit. REUTERS/Anis Mili

Election commission president Henri Bouka told reporters that Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled Congo for 32 of the last 37 years, had won 67 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election based on results from 72 of 111 voting districts.

He must win an outright majority against eight opposition candidates to avoid a run-off.

Former minister Guy-Brice Parfait Kolelas was second in the preliminary results, with 16.8 percent. The remaining votes are expected to take another day to collect.

Police and soldiers patrolled the capital Brazzaville on Tuesday and the government extended the communications blackout it says will help prevent unofficial results circulating and creating unrest.

Authorities fear riots after at least 18 people were killed by security forces in protests ahead of a referendum in October that removed term and age limits that would have prevented Sassou Nguesso from running again.

The opposition says Sunday’s vote was fraudulent and plans to publish its own results, an action the government says would be illegal.

The U.S. State Department said it had “received numerous reports of irregularities that have raised concerns about the credibility of the process”, urging authorities in a statement to restore communications.

Many residents of opposition strongholds in southern Brazzaville have left the city, fearing violence, and most shops remained closed.

Voting was peaceful on Sunday but later police fired tear gas at crowds who had gathered to follow the count in the southern Bacongo neighbourhood.

Congo’s election is being watched closely across Africa, where several long-ruling presidents are seeking to stay on beyond constitutionally mandated term limits.

In neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, opponents of President Joseph Kabila accuse him of trying to delay a presidential election scheduled for November. Kabila has declined to comment publicly on his political future.

Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Writing by Aaron Ross and Edward McAllister; Editing by Catherine Evans

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