17 candidates in Congo presidential race: commission

BRAZZAVILLE (AFP) — Seventeen candidates are in the fray for Congo's presidential election on July 12, including incumbent Denis Sassou Nguesso, an election official announced on Saturday.

Presidential hopefuls had until midnight on Friday to file their papers to take part in the race.

"We have received papers from 17 people which have been recorded by an official," said Antoine Evoundou, director general of electoral affairs.

"The papers will be handed to the Constitutional Court today for scrutiny and approval."

"We hope the Constitutional Court will come to a decision quickly to allow us to print ballots in time for the July 12 vote," he added.

Observers say the front-runners in the vote include the current president; former finance minister Mathias Dzon of the Alliance for the Republic and Democracy; Ange Edouard Poungi of the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy; and Guy-Romain Kimfoussia of the Union for Democracy and the Republic.

The poll will be organised by the central African country's election commission, whose impartiality has been questioned by opposition politicians.

The electoral campaign will run for two weeks from June 26.

Legislative elections in 2007 and local elections in 2008, organised by the commission, were marked by corruption and criticised by African Union observers.

Congo has been wracked by periods of civil war over the past decade, which have been linked to the organisation of polls.

Sassou Nguesso, a career soldier, first took power as head of state in 1979 by deposing president Joachim Yhombi-Opango.

He ruled for 13 years until the spirit of democratisation sweeping through Africa produced a national referendum that ushered in multi-party politics in 1992. He was defeated in the subsequent presidential elections.

He seized power again in 1997, leading an army uprising after having returned from three years' exile in Paris.

He was confirmed as president in highly criticised elections in 2002.