Police in Congo’s capital Brazzaville exchanged heavy fire with unidentified gunmen on Monday, witnesses said, in the first significant outbreak of violence since President Denis Sassou Nguesso won re-election last month in a disputed poll.
Young opposition supporters, chanting “Sassou, leave!”, also erected barricades near the main roundabout in southern Brazzaville’s Makelekele neighborhood and set fire to the local mayor’s office and police headquarters.
The gunfire broke out in the opposition strongholds of Makelekele and Bacongo at 3 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) and lasted until 6 a.m. It then resumed around 8 a.m. as military helicopters patrolled southern Brazzaville, witnesses said.
Sassou Nguesso has ruled the Central African oil producer for 32 of the last 37 years. He won re-election on March 20 after pushing through constitutional changes in an October referendum to remove age and term limits that would have prevented him from standing again.
Opposition candidates have described the election as a fraud and called for a campaign of civil disobedience. A general strike last week was largely observed in southern Brazzaville but ignored in the capital’s north, where Sassou Nguesso is popular.
The U.S. State Department said after the ballot it had received numerous reports of irregularities and criticized the government’s decision to cut all telecommunications during voting.
At least 18 people were killed by security forces during opposition demonstrations ahead of the October referendum.