Reuters International

BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - The European Union on Thursday condemned what it said were human rights abuses in Republic of Congo during violence following the country's March 20 election, echoing similar 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 E.U. said in a statement. "This puts into question the credibility of the results."

The U.S. State Department said in a statement 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.

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 that it says were involved in Monday's gunfights.

Guy Brice Parfait Koelas, the opposition candidate who came in second in March polls, said this week that police had arrested and jailed residents of the southern Brazzaville neighbourhoods without cause.

(Reporting by Philon Bondenga; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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