DR Congo’s opposition leader vows to hold rally despite ban
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s opposition leader called a rally in the capital Kinshasa on Sunday, defying a police ban on political gatherings, following deadly violence during the country’s second democratic election in history.
AFP – Tensions flared on the eve of Democratic Republic of Congo’s elections as opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi called a rally in the capital despite a ban on gatherings following deadly violence.
The head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) meanwhile pledged the vote would go ahead as scheduled, after repeated delays preparing the polls in a country two-thirds the size of western Europe had raised fears of a postponement.
“Our teams assure us that things are going well and that the polling stations will open tomorrow on time,” CENI chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda told journalists.
“There will be no postponement.”
Tshisekedi’s defiant rally plans came after police in Kinshasa banned political meetings following clashes that killed two people Saturday on what was supposed to be the last day of campaigning for Monday’s polls.
Large crowds had gathered Saturday morning near Kinshasa’s biggest stadium and at the main airport to welcome the top two presidential rivals, Tshisekedi and the incumbent Joseph Kabila, who both planned to hold their final rallies in the capital.
But the festive atmosphere soon unravelled into unrest.
Tshisekedi, a 78-year-old veteran politician known for his unbending personality, vowed to ignore the campaign ban, and had a more than seven-hour stand-off with police who blocked his convoy at the airport.
A defiant Tshisekedi emerged through the sunroof of his red Hummer to stare down the national police chief and some 300 officers who forced members of the 20-car entourage into their cars with shoves and baton blows and forced the motorcade to drive off shortly before midnight.
The day’s unrest also saw police clash with Tshisekedi supporters near the airport – using teargas, water cannons, batons and live ammunition to disperse the crowd. One person was killed in the melee, hit in the head with a rock.
At least three people were shot in the legs, apparently by police, AFP correspondents said.
Interior Minister Adolphe Lumanu said that apart from “a few incidents”, the election campaign had passed off peacefully across the country. It was not known where or how the second death, mentioned in an interior ministry statement, took place.
Kinshasa governor Andre Kimbuta, a Kabila ally, said officials had been forced to cut short campaigning for security reasons, accusing Tshisekedi supporters of carrying stones, machetes, knives and petrol bombs.
The violence closed a tense campaign marred by a series of street fights between rival supporters.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement issued from New York, condemned the violence.
“I call on all political leaders and the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to exercise restraint throughout the process to ensure that the elections are held in a peaceful and secure environment,” he said.
But he told the government it had “primary responsibility” for maintaining peace.
A top election observer warned the pre-poll violence risked creating a repressive atmosphere on election day.
“A lot of the time pre-election violence is a precursor to a situation of intimidation, where you are basically saying that you don’t want people to actually enjoy the freedom to cast their ballots,” said Malefetsane Nkhahle, mission leader for the 15-nation Southern African Development Community’s election observer team.
Adding to the uneasy environment on the last day before the polls, a group of armed men reportedly raided a military camp and arms depot in Lubumbashi, a southeastern city that had been the scene of clashes between government and opposition supporters during the campaign.
Tshisekedi also cranked up tensions by calling on Ban to immediately remove the head of the UN’s 20,000-troop DRC peacekeeping mission, saying the official – American Roger Meece - was too close to Kabila’s government.
The polls are only the second here since back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2003, the scars of which are still fresh.