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Latest update : 2009-07-16

Congo's government was expected on Wednesday to release provisional election results - initially awaited on Tuesday - as rights groups and opposition politicians questioned the conduct of the poll.

AFP - Congo's government was expected on Wednesday to release provisional election results as rights groups and opposition politicians stepped up their criticism of the conduct of the poll.

The government had been expected to release on Tuesday the full provisional results of an election in which President Denis Sassou Nguesso faced 12 challengers who have cried fraud.

But Territorial Administration Minister Raymond Mboulou said the results were now to be published on Wednesday, explaining to AFP: "Some polling stations have not transmitted all their results, they sent us digests."

The government and opposition are locked in disagreement about the turnout in Sunday's election.

Some of Sassou Nguesso's opponents said only about 10 percent of voters cast their ballots. Electoral officials have yet to release their figures for the turnout.

The 66-year-old former military ruler, who has ruled Congo for almost 25 years, is seeking another seven-year term.

Sassou Nguesso held power from 1979 to 1992 and returned to the presidency in 1997 after a civil war.

Half his opponents called for a last-minute boycott of this year's election when they were unable to obtain a delay to verify the electoral rolls. They regard the official figure of 2.2 million eligible to vote in a nation of some 3.6 million as swollen to facilitate fraud.

The government has dismissed opposition claims of a very low turnout as nonsense. On Monday, Mboulou said that in some districts the turnout was "well above average" and that in some constituencies, "100 percent of people voted."

Figures released from the capital Brazzaville, the economic capital and oil city of Pointe Noire, and other regions in interior of the country showed turnout rates of between 40 and 92 percent.

Asked to comment on the turnout by AFP late Monday, the head of the CONEL body that organises the elections, Henri Bouka, refused to give a figure, but said it "was on the whole very satisfactory."

Sassou Nguesso's main rival is former finance minister Mathias Dzon, 62, who was among those to call for a boycott. Dzon and five allied candidates on Sunday night denounced widespread fraud.

The row over the turnout has been fuelled by different assessments by the observer teams monitoring the vote.

According to supervisors in the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation, "the turnout was very low" and the poll was badly marred by "fraud and irregularities."

The local observer team concluded that the election was "neither fair, nor transparent, nor balanced."

But small teams of monitors from the African Union and the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States gave the poll a clean bill of health.

The vote took place calmly and in a dignified fashion, these teams found, concluding that the poll had been "regular, free and transparent."

If no one candidate obtains 50 percent of the first round votes, a run-off will be held.

Some 70 percent of people in Congo live below the poverty line despite an abundance of oil and timber, the country's main exports.

Date created : 2009-07-15