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The rise and fall and rise of Denis Sassou-Nguesso

Sassou-Nguesso

Ex-dictator of Congo loses, regains power

October 16, 1997
Web posted at: 10:04 a.m. EDT (1404 GMT)

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo (CNN) -- When his militia overran the presidential palace in Brazzaville this week, it marked a dramatic comeback for Denis Sassou-Nguesso.

For 13 years, from 1979 to 1992, Sassou-Nguesso was president of the Republic of Congo and ran it as a single-party Marxist state with the backing of the Soviet Union and Cuba.

But he was also a pragmatist, loosening controls on the economy and opening up his oil-rich country to exploration and production by western countries, including France and the United States.

Sassou-Nguesso was an adept political player in the region. He served as mediator and provided a negotiating site for 1988 talks that led to South Africa's withdrawal from Namibia and the withdrawal of Cuban and South African troops from Angola.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and the end of the Cold War changed the dynamics of Africa.

International and internal pressure for change forced Sassou-Nguesso to preside over Congo's transition to a multi-party political system.

When he called for free elections in 1992, he was beaten handily by his long-time rival, Pascal Lissouba. Since then, Congo's political factions have developed private armed militias with fierce-sounding names, including Sassou-Nguesso's Cobras and Prime Minister Bernard Kolela's Ninjas.

The Cobras' victorious assaults of Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville, apparently backed by Angolan troops, has set off a number of concerns internationally.

This would be the first time an ex-president has retaken power with the help of a private army. Diplomats warn it may encourage military strongmen in other fragile states to try seizing power.

 
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