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Profile of Denis Sassou-Nguesso, new AU head

[Congo] President Denis Sassou-Nguesso.
Roberto Ortiz de Zarate

Newly elected African Union (AU) head, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo (RoC), has ruled his country twice - from 1979 to 1992 and then again from 1997 to date.

Born in 1943 in a farming family in Edou, a village about 400 km north of the capital, Brazzaville, he received his early education at a teachers' college in Dolisie, in the southwest of the country.

Afterwards, he pursued a military career, receiving training from 1961 to 1963 at the officers' schools of Cherchell in Algeria and at the infantry academy in Saint-Maixent, France.

In December 1969, after he returned to RoC, Sassou-Nguesso co-founded the Congolese Workers Party (PCT). The PCT was then the only political party in the country. He held senior posts in the Congolese security apparatus and at 25 years of age, was nominated defence minister.

On 5 January 1979, Gen Jacques Joachim Yhomby Opango was overthrown and Sassou-Nguesso became the country's president. Seven years later, he became chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU - later renamed AU).

At the OAU, Sassou-Nguesso headed the "Africa Fund" against the apartheid system in South Africa - a role acknowledged during a visit to Brazzaville in 2005 by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

In 1988, Sassou-Nguesso headed the "Protocol of Brazzaville", which dealt with the retreat of Cuban troops from Angola. In 1990, the same protocol helped liberate Namibia from colonial subjugation.

In 1990, under pressure from the Confederation of Congolese Unions, he agreed to open the Congo to a multiparty system. In 1991, the country organised a national conference that created transitional institutions for democracy and Sassou-Nguesso lost much of his powers to a new prime minister.

In 1992, in the first pluralistic presidential elections ever to be held in the Congo, Sassou-Nguesso lost to President Pascal Lissouba. Thereafter, he disappeared from the national political arena, retreating to his fiefdom in Oyo and then going into exile in France.

In 1997, with the support of Angola, Sassou-Nguesso fought a bloody war against Lissouba, took power and organised a government of national unity.

In March 2002, he won an election with 89.41 percent of votes cast.

Besides being Congo's president, Sassou-Nguesso presided over the Economic Monetary Community of Central Africa from 2003 to 2004. He has also been president of the Central African Economic Community, known as CEMAC, for the last three years.

The Republic of Congo has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council since September 2005.

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