Pastor, Ex-Ministers to Run for President in Republic of Congo

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A retired army colonel and two ex-cabinet ministers plan to run in the Republic of Congo’s elections next month, when voters will decide whether or not to extend President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s more than two-decade rule.

Retired army Colonel Albert Oniangue, who is now a pastor in an evangelical church, and former Civil Service Minister Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas said Wednesday they both plan to run in the March 21 vote. Ex-Finance Minister Mathias Dzon said Thursday he’s also entering the race.

Home to sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil reserves, Congo ranks among the world’s 15 most corrupt nations listed by anti-graft campaigners Transparency International. The government is in talks to restructure debt with creditors including Glencore Plc and Trafigura Group Ltd.

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Sassou Nguesso, 77, has faced international pressure to improve his administration’s human-rights record. Advocacy groups including Amnesty International have criticized his administration for arbitrarily arresting and jailing opponents, while local civil-society groups estimate dozens of political prisoners have been jailed.

Catholic Church leaders this week expressed concern that conditions for a credible vote aren’t in place.

“We haven’t found a solution to having or organizing a free and fair election in this country,” Archbishop Victor Abangna Mossa said by phone on Wednesday. “We have pointed out to the authorities that the way forward is to do things in ways that won’t antagonize people, and it is through good elections.”

Government spokesman Thierry Moungalla rejected the criticism and said the authorities are making progress on improving the democratic process.

Sassou Nguesso led the country from 1979 to 1992 and then returned to power at the end of a civil war in 1997. He won a third consecutive term in elections in 2016.

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