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Tension mounts in DR Congo ahead of vote

Street rights broke out amongst rival supporters in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday and an opposition TV station was shut down. The violence comes three weeks ahead of the November 28 presidential election.


AFP - Rival supporters clashed Monday in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the government also shut down an opposition TV station, as tension rose with general polls only three weeks away.

In the southeastern mining city of Lubumbashi, street fights erupted between stone-throwing supporters of the ruling Party for Reconstruction and Democracy and of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress.

The clashes, which comes two days after similar violence left 15 wounded, raised fears that the vast conflict-prone country might slip back into widespread violence ahead of polls scheduled for November 28.

Calm had returned to the capital of the mineral-rich Katanga province on Sunday but tensions flared anew early Monday.

Shop windows were smashed, banks shuttered, a vehicle transporting food goods was looted and pedestrians were mugged, an AFP correspondent said, reporting that most residents were holing themselves up in their homes.

Several people were wounded Monday but no reliable injury toll was available and police had managed to quell the fighting by nightfall.

Late last month, an alliance of 73 Congolese and international rights groups called for restraint in an open letter sent to all presidential contenders.

Aides to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country since the assassination of his father Laurent in 2001, say he will tour all 11 of the provinces making up the vast country, which is four times the size of France.

There are 11 candidates for the presidency, and nearly 19,000 candidates are in the running for some 500 parliamentary seats with 32 million people eligible to vote.

The opposition UPDS had appealed for calm on Sunday, blaming Saturday's violence on "candidate Kabila's efforts to stoke unrest that will disrupt the electoral process."

Human Rights Watch charged late last month that Gabriel Kyungu, who heads the Katanga provincial parliament and a movement affiliated to the ruling party, had repeatedly resorted to hate speech during the campaign.

But it was UPDS chief Etienne Tshisekedi who came under fire Monday for calling on his supporters to break into prisons and free their detained comrades.

The station that aired the interview late Sunday, Radio Lisanga Television (RLTV), was temporarily shut down by the government.

Tshisekedi, seen as one of Kabila's main election rivals, said in a phone interview from South Africa that the government had 48 hours to free his supporters, calling them "fighters.

"Or else I will call on fighters across the country to break down prison doors and release their comrades," the 78-year-old former prime minister under Mobutu Sese Seko's dictatorship said.

Besides Tshisekedi, candidates include former speaker Vital Kamerhe and senate chairman Leon Kengo. The former dictator's son Joseph-Francois Nzanga Mobutu is also among those vying for the top job.

The US-based Carter Center, which has had observers in the country since August, said there were "serious threats to holding the election" and called for the DR Congo's election commission to take "urgent steps" so as to be credibly prepared for the ballot.

Systemic corruption since independence from Belgium in 1960 and internal conflict since 1997 have slashed the nation's national output, increased external debt and led to the deaths of more than five million from violence, famine and disease.

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