Republic of Congo candidate Kolelas dies of COVID-19

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FILE- In this Sunday March 7, 2021 file photo, people walk past an election poster featuring opposition presidential candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, in downtown Brazzaville, Congo. Kolelas, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 complications on election day, has died, a spokesman said Monday, March 22, 2021. The 61-year-old politician was last seen in a video circulating Saturday on social media in which he told supporters he was fighting death. Aides later said he was been flown to France for further treatment. Spokesman Justin Nzoloufoua confirmed his death Monday to The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Lebon Chansard Ziavoula, File)

BRAZZAVILLE – Republic of Congo's top presidential opposition candidate Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 complications on election day, has died, a spokesman said Monday.

The 61-year-old politician had been flown to France for further treatment on Sunday but died shortly after landing in Paris, aides said.

He was last seen in a video circulating Saturday on social media in which he told supporters he was “fighting death.”

Spokesman Justin Nzoloufoua confirmed his death Monday to The Associated Press, and said efforts were underway to repatriate Kolelas' body to Brazzaville.

Kolelas, who won 15% of the vote in the 2016 election, was expected to finish second to President Denis Sassou N'Guesso, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders with more than 36 years in office.

Sassou N'Guesso said Monday that Sunday's vote had taken place without incident.

"I can therefore say that democracy is working in our country,” said the president, who won with 60% of ballots cast last time.

Kolelas had skipped his final campaign event on Friday after telling some reporters a day earlier that he feared he had malaria. A video circulating on social media Saturday showed Kolelas wearing an oxygen mask and with a blood pressure cuff on his arm as he lay in a hospital bed.

“My dear compatriots, I am in trouble. I am fighting death,” the candidate says in a weak-sounding voice after removing his oxygen mask. “However, I ask you to stand up and vote for change. I would not have fought for nothing.”

The opposition figure has been particularly critical of the incumbent leader in recent days, declaring that Republic of Congo had become “a police state.”

Sassou N’Guesso is the third-longest serving president in Africa, ruling from 1979-1992 and then again since 1997 in this nation often overshadowed by its vast neighbor Congo.

Republic of Congo, with a population of about 5.4 million people, has had fewer than 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 134 confirmed deaths.

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Associated Press journalists Jerome Delay in Johannesburg and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.