The main opposition candidate in Sunday’s presidential election in Congo Republic, Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, has died aged 61 while being taken to France for medical treatment, aides say.
Kolelas’ election campaign had said on Sunday that the former minister was in hospital with COVID-19, which prevented him from casting his own ballot.
The election results are only expected later this week.
Kolelas had been seen as President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s strongest challenger, although diplomats and analysts said there was little doubt that the incumbent would win and extend his 36-year rule.
Kolelas’ heart stopped when his plane landed in Paris and the ambulance team was unable to save him, his adviser Didier Loco said.
His spokesman, Justin Nzoloufoua, declined to give the cause of death.
Grieving supporters in the capital Brazzaville filled the Union of Democratic Humanists (UDH-YUKI) party headquarters, where a huge portrait of Kolelas hung on the wall and the country’s flag flew at half-mast.
“Everyone was counting on him. We are very disappointed,” said Edgar Masomba, a 50-year-old supporter.
“Why, why, why?” several women cried.
Kolelas, the son of former prime minister Bernard Kolelas, worked in the government for many years and came second in the 2016 presidential election.
He released a video from his hospital bed late on Saturday.
Breathing heavily and holding an oxygen mask next to his face, Kolelas said he was “battling against death” but urged Congolese to “go vote for change”.
Some supporters said they doubted he had really died of COVID-19 but party leaders tried to quash any conspiracy theories.
“Whether it was COVID or something else is not important to us. What matters is the future of the party,” said its secretary-general, Gaston Malanda.
“Unfortunately the catastrophe came at the moment when we were calculating results. We have no information today to say whether he won or not.”
An internet blackout across the country on election day continued on Monday, witnesses said.
President Sassou, 77, changed the constitution in 2015 to extend the term limit.