Republic of Congo profile
President: Denis Sassou Nguesso
Denis Sassou Nguesso is one of Africa's longest-serving leaders having first come to power three decades ago.
He gained his latest seven-year term after elections in July 2009 which were boycotted by the opposition, and from which the main opposition candidate was excluded.
He was installed as president by the military in 1979 and lost his position in the country's first multi-party elections in 1992.
He returned to power in 1997 after a brief but bloody civil war in which he was backed by Angolan troops.
A French-trained paratroop colonel, Mr Sassou Nguesso is seen as a pragmatist. During his first presidency in 1979-92 he loosened the country's links with the Soviet bloc and gave French, US and other Western oil companies roles in oil exploration and production.
He abandoned the one-party system in 1992, making the ruling Congolese Workers Party (PCT) fight for its political life after more than 20 years as the sole party.
A French judge announced in May 2009 that he would launch a landmark investigation into whether Sassou Nguesso, Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema plundered state coffers to buy luxury homes and cars in France.
A complaint filed by Transparency International France accused the leaders, who deny any wrongdoing, of acquiring millions of dollars of real estate in Paris and on the French Riviera and buying luxury cars with embezzled public money.
Denis Sassou Nguesso was born in a village in northern Congo in 1943. In 2006 he became chairman of the 53-nation African Union.