July 15, 2009 / 4:25 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 3-Sassou-Nguesso wins Congo Republic election

* Further seven years for Sassou-Nguesso

* AU says vote free, but rights group alleges fraud

(Adds turnout, background)

By Christian Tsoumou

BRAZZAVILLE, July 15 (Reuters) - President Denis Sassou-Nguesso has won seven more years in power in Congo Republic after taking 78 percent of the vote in Sunday’s presidential election, the electoral commission said on Wednesday.

Observers from the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States said the election, which opposition parties had boycotted, was free and transparent, but a human rights group said the vote was tainted by fraud.

“Congo salutes the victory of democracy. I am president of all the Congolese people,” Sassou-Nguesso said, hailing victory at his campaign headquarters while his supporters honked car horns.

Sassou-Nguesso has been in and out of power since a 1979 coup in the country, Africa’s fifth biggest oil producer. He won the last election in 2002 with almost 90 percent of the vote, a result dismissed by the opposition as a sham, after his main rivals were banned or withdrew.

CANDIDATES BANNED

Turnout on Sunday was 66 percent, interior minister Raymond Mboulou said, but others disputed such a high number.

“This election has seen a very low rate of participation, has seen fraud and irregularities, has been neither just nor transparent nor fair, and has not expressed the will of the Congolese people,” the Congolese Human Rights Observatory said.

Four opposition candidates were barred from running in the election, while others pulled out in protest.

The European Union did not send observers to monitor the vote, citing priorities elsewhere.

Though the sitting president was widely expected to be returned with a resounding percentage of the vote, a large land deal hinged on the outcome of the election.

The government said in the runup to the poll that a multi-million hectare land deal with South African farmers would not be finalised until after the vote. [ID:nLV72463]

Congo Republic’s main export earner is oil. Output is about 220,000 barrels per day, but critics of the president say the majority of the country’s population of 3.7 million have not benefited.

Sassou-Nguesso is one of three African presidents whose wealth is under investation by a French judge.

French energy firm Total (TOTF.PA) is the biggest oil producer in Congo Republic, while Italy’s Eni (ENI.MI) is also a big investor.

To see a FACTBOX on Africa’s longest-serving leaders, click on [ID:nL91004496]

Writing by Daniel Magnowski; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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