Congo celebrates 50 years independence

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Some 10,000 troops and civilians joined a parade Sunday to mark Congo-Brazzaville's 50 years of independence from France, but celebrations were muted by the oil-rich state's continued poverty.

A vast crowd of several thousand watched 5,300 members of the military and 5,000 civilians walk through the centre of Brazzaville, between midday to 3:00 pm local time (1400 GMT).

Congo's long-running President Denis Sassou Nguesso was among the spectators, joined by 14 African heads of state and France's representative, Gerard Larcher, president of the Senate.

High spirits on the day are dampened however by Congo's poor development since independence. Some 70 percent of the 3.6 million population live below the poverty line even after seven years of peace from civil war and recent double digit economic expansion.

"Our country will not be totally independent until our people are free of the yoke of poverty," said Sassou Nguesso in the run-up to celebrations.

Sassou Nguesso is one of Africa's longest-serving leaders with his first stint as president stretching from 1979 to 1992 and his current stint unbroken since 1997.

Until 1992 Congo was under one party rule, but the advent of multi-party politics also saw the rise of armed militias who plunged the country into a spiral of civil war.

The first conflict was in 1993-1994 followed by two other outbreaks of combat in 1997 and in 1998-2003, a reign of terror that left 15,000 people dead.

© 2010 AFP

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