MORTARS EXPLODE IN RUN-UP TO POLLS

BRAZZAVILLE - At least four mortar shells pounded a northern working class district of Brazzaville overnight, causing heavy damage but no casualties, locals said yesterday.

BRAZZAVILLE - At least four mortar shells pounded a northern working class district of Brazzaville overnight, causing heavy damage but no casualties, locals said yesterday.

The attack came just hours ahead of key talks between the ruling party, the opposition and civil society groups in the run-up to the July presidential elections, which the incumbent, President Denis Sassou Nguesso, is expected to contest.

"At least two mortar shells exploded, destroying the wall of a plot, but did not injure or kill anyone," a government source said.

"For the present we are not worried about where the shells were fired from and who fired them," the source said.

A human rights activist said the attacks were intended to pressure the politicians to move ahead with the "republican dialogue" announced during a visit to Brazzaville in March by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The dialogue is to review the institutional framework of the elections, the electoral body and the financing of political parties. The holding of such a forum has long been demanded by the opposition, civil society and the clergy.

Last month the opposition expressed scepticism, saying the real aim of the dialogue was to legitimise the National Elections Organisation Committee, whose independence is questioned, before the presidential vote.

A government source yesterday, however, said the attacks were not linked to the talks, and blamed these on "isolated bandits".

Brazzaville was the scene of heavy fighting between June and October 1997 between government forces and troops loyal to Sassou Nguesso, who ultimately seized power.

Sassou Nguesso was elected in 2007 but the polls were widely viewed as being marred by fraud.

About 10 candidates are contesting the upcoming July elections, whose date has not yet been announced. - Sapa-AFP

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