Global calls for calm as Congo awaits election results

Brazzaville (AFP) - Washington and the European Union called for calm in Congo as the country Tuesday awaited results from a weekend presidential election, with communications lines cut for a third day.

Fears of violence are running high as the country waits to see if President Denis Sassou Nguesso has beaten eight other candidates to succeed in his bid to extend his 32-year rule.

Congo has been on edge since an October constitutional referendum that ended a two-term limit on presidential mandates, allowing 72-year-old former paratrooper colonel Sassou Nguesso to run for office again.

The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) is planning a news conference on "the first main trends" in the vote at 6:00pm (1700 GMT), with Sassou Nguesso's team expected to hold its own briefing afterwards.

The streets of the capital Brazzaville were quieter than usual on Tuesday, as they were on Monday.

Five opposition candidates have urged people to "exercise their sovereignty" if Sassou Nguesso wins the election on the first round, as his supporters have said he will.

They created their own parallel "technical commission" to monitor the vote and compile information from polling stations to compare it to the official results which the CNEI will give to the authorities.

The government has declared the commission to be illegal and announced Saturday that communications networks were being cut for 48 hours to stop the opposition publishing its own rival election results.

By mid-day on Tuesday, mobile phone, internet and text services were still unavailable, according to AFP journalists in Brazzaville. A government source said they would be cut until after the official results were announced.

- International concern -

France expressed concern Tuesday over the cut in communication lines, urging "transparency" in the counting of votes.

"This vote took place in a worrying context, particularly due to the cut in communications. France is being vigilant and recalls its commitment to transparency and fairness in the electoral process," said foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal.

The European Union called on all sides to use legal routes to settle their differences and urged the authorities to open communication lines again.

The EU had earlier refused to send election observers, saying conditions had not been met for a transparent and democratic vote.

On Friday the UN called for calm, while Washington also urged the authorities to restore communications and "to complete the electoral process with accuracy, credibility, fairness, and transparency".

"We ask all political leaders to renounce violence, call upon their supporters to remain calm, and seek to resolve any differences peacefully in accordance with existing laws and procedures," US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Sassou Nguesso is accused by critics of rampant corruption and nepotism in the oil and timber-rich country, which saw growth of five percent over the five years to 2014 but remains in dire straits.

Unemployment hit 34 percent in 2013, the last data available, and stood at 60 percent for 15 to 24-year-olds. The IMF fears "domestic instability" without progress in the battle to eliminate poverty.

Sassou Nguesso served as president from 1979 to 1992 and returned to power in 1997 following a civil war. He won two successive mandates in 2002 and 2009, but both tallies were contested by opposition parties.