Gun battle rocked Brazzaville early Monday, shattering a relative calm that followed President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s re-election in a disputed poll last month.
Witnesses said the fighting between security forces and unidentified gunmen was some of the worst to hit Brazzaville since 1997, when Sassou Nguesso returned to power after months of urban warfare between rival militia groups in the capital.
They said young opposition supporters chanting “Sassou, leave!” erected barricades near the main roundabout in southern Brazzaville’s Makelekele neighbourhood 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 am local time (0200 GMT) and lasted until 6 a.m.
“It resumed around 8 am and intensified in late morning as military helicopters patrolled southern Brazzaville,” witnesses said.
They said heavy weapons fire could be heard.
Witnesses said hundreds of residents of southern Brazzaville, some carrying their possessions on their heads, fled their neighbourhoods on foot toward the north of the city.
Mr. Nguesso 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.
At least 18 people were killed by security forces during opposition demonstrations before the referendum.
Opposition candidates said the election was a fraud, calling for a campaign for civil disobedience.
A general strike last week was largely observed in southern Brazzaville but ignored in the north of the city, where Sassou Nguesso is popular.
The U.S. State Department said after the election it had received numerous reports of irregularities and criticised the government’s decision to cut all telecommunications including internet services during voting and for days afterwards.
Meanwhile, U.S. embassy has also confirmed that there was heavy gunfire and it would provide only limited operations.