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Congo NGOs want opposition to join poll talks

Civic bodies Thursday suggested intervention by clerics to bring Congolese opposition parties to a meeting under way in Brazzaville to prepare for a fair presidential poll in July.

Cephas Germain Ewangui, head of a civic forum for open and free elections (Focosel) which groups several non governmental organisations, said the main opposition were the "very first loudly to have called for this dialogue."

The opposition on Wednesday announced a boycott of the national dialogue under way in parliament and arranged to bring all political and civic forces into the process of organising the presidential election.

"We don't agree with the government about the agenda nor the body formed to oversee the work," spokesman Pascal Tsaty Mabiala of the United Front of Opposition Parties (FUPO) told AFP then.

The government of President Denis Sassou Nguesso announced Thursday that the dialogue in parliament buildings would last longer than planned and run on into Friday.

Government spokesman Alain Akouala Atipault said that talks were going in with a "wing of the opposition that is reasonable and responsible."

Prime Minister Isidore Mvouba agreed Thursday with the NGOs, saying "we have no objection" to a proposed bid to send a team including a bishop to bring the opposition into the what the government bills as a "Republican dialogue."

"We don't know why the opposition isn't in this hall," he added.

The forum in the oil-rich former French colony in central Africa started on Tuesday, but the opposition failed to show up for the official opening ceremony and none of its members were present when work began on Wednesday morning.

The government announced that it would hold a pre-electoral forum in March, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in Brazzaville, the capital. During the parliamentary elections of 2007 and local government polls last year, observers from the African Union denounced fraud.

The opposition itself had called for a debate, like leaders of civil society, so the complete boycott came as a surprise, and the forum started two hours late on Tuesday with a curtailed opening ceremony.

In the past the opposition has objected to a national electoral commission that it regards as biased in favour of Sassou Nguesso and his supporters. The opposition charges that a government-sponsored dialogue would only legitimise the controversial commission.

No precise date had been set for the presidential election, which must be held in July under the constitution, but about 10 candidates have come forward.

Sassou Nguesso, a former military ruler who returned to power after a bloody civil war in 1997 and was elected in 2002, has not announced if he will stand. His aides say he will be in the race.

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Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:Apr 16, 2009
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