Deadly violence and arson plague DR Congo vote
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Citizens in the Democratic Republic of Congo headed to the polls on Monday for the country's second post-war election. Deadly violence and arson attacks fueled fears that the poll outcome, provisionally due on December 6, may be disputed.
REUTERS - Deadly violence, arson and widespread voter confusion marred Democratic Republic of Congo’s second post-war election on Monday, raising concerns of a protracted dispute over the outcome.
Masked gunmen attacked a polling station in the southern mining province of Katanga before three of them were killed by security forces, and locals burnt down three polling stations in the neighbouring opposition heartland of West Kasai.
Many voters trekked between polling stations, confused over where they were meant to cast their ballots, and scuffles broke out over shortages of voting materials and allegations of fraud.
“I voted. I left at 7 in the morning. I have been to five schools,” said Bercam Nzangi, a Kinshasa resident. “I was able to do this but what about those mammas who can’t read and write or don’t have transport. This is organised chaos.”
Election commission official, Matthieu Mpita, told reporters polling stations would remain open as long as it takes to complete voting, describing operations so far as “satisfactory”.
Congo’s election, pitting incumbent President Joseph Kabila against main challenger Etienne Tshisekedi and nine other rivals, is meant to gauge progress since a 1998-2003 war that killed more than five million people.
Concerns are mounting that a chaotic poll will pave the way for dispute between Kabila and Tshisekedi over the eventual results. A contested election in Ivory Coast, in West Africa, triggered a civil war earlier this year.
“If such a standoff takes place, a lot will depend on what the other candidates (...) do and how Kabila’s forces react to what could potentially be massive displays of support for the opposition in the capital,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the U.S.-based Michael S. Ansari Africa Center.
Provisional results are due Dec. 6. The failure of the opposition to unite behind a single candidate - after Kabila’s camp pushed through a law scrapping the need for a run-off if no candidate secures a majority in the first round of voting - has bolstered his chances.
Voters headed slowly, and for the most part peacefully, to the polls elsewhere in the country. The capital Kinshasa, where at least three people were killed in violence on Saturday, was otherwise calm with voters dodging rain-filled potholes.
A leader of the Carter Center election observer mission, John Stremlau, said the organisation had flagged logistical problems ahead of the vote.
“What we are seeing is the cost of that in a lot of voters who are frustrated and not getting to the polls in time and not being given clear instructions as to how the procedure will work,” he told Reuters.
Congolese security forces detained a dozen suspects after masked gunmen using automatic weapons attacked a polling station in Katanga.
“Three people were killed, seven were arrested and five handed themselves over after being surrounded by the army,” Moise Katumbi, the governor of the local Katanga province told Reuters by telephone from the city.
Human Rights Watch researcher Ida Sawyer said two policemen may also have been killed in the same attack, though that could not be confirmed.
In West Kasai, locals burnt down three polling stations and police fired shots to disperse around one hundred people who gathered outside the mayor’s office in the town of Mbuji-Mayi complaining they did not know were to vote.
One female RENOSEC observer was seriously injured after being attacked by crowds fearing electoral fraud in nearby Kananga, Francois Badibanga, spokesman for the Congolese electoral monitoring organisation said.
“We are in the hospital with our observer, she is between life and death,” he told Reuters by telephone.
The polls also include more than 18,500 candidates competing for 500 seats in parliament.
Kabila came to power when his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001 and then won the 2006 poll.
Addressing the nation on Sunday evening, Kabila, seen by many as the favourite due to the advantages of incumbency, warned against a return to widespread violence.
“Our country has come a long way, from war and conflict of every type. We must take care not to go back to that,” he said.
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