BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - The European Union on Thursday condemned what it said were human rights abuses in Republic of Congo during violence after a March 20 election, echoing concerns voiced by the U.S. State Department.
Seventeen people died in clashes after President Denis Sassou Nguesso's disputed re-election, including in gunfights that broke out on Monday in the opposition strongholds of southern Brazzaville.
"The post-electoral process was marked by violations of human rights, arrests and intimidation of the opposition and the media," the EU said in a statement. "This puts into question the credibility of the results."
The U.S. State Department said in a statement on Thursday that it was "profoundly disappointed" by a "flawed" electoral process.
"Widespread irregularities and the arrests of opposition supporters following the elections marred an otherwise peaceful vote," it said.
Opposition leaders say the elections, in which Nguesso won a new five year term with 60 percent of the vote, were fraudulent. The EU had declined to send observers to the polls, citing issues with electoral laws and the voter register.
In a statement released on Friday evening, the Congolese government said it had made several reforms since an October referendum allowed Nguesso to run for another term, thanking some members of the international community for their support.
But it also complained about international criticism, saying: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation is amazed at the approximate, repetitive statements ... of some visibly poorly informed partners who deliberately refused to deploy observers on the ground to cover the March 20 presidential vote."
Nguesso has ruled the oil-producing Central African country for 32 of the last 37 years. In October he pushed through constitutional reforms that lifted age and term limits that would have prevented him from standing.
The government said it had arrested 50 former members of the "Ninja" militia that fought Sassou Nguesso in a 1997 civil war, saying it was involved in Monday's gunfights.
Guy Brice Parfait Koelas, the opposition candidate who came second in the March polls, said this week that police had arrested and jailed residents of southern Brazzaville neighborhoods without cause.
(Reporting by Philon Bondenga; Additional reporting by Christian Elion; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Toby Chopra/Ruth Pitchford)