DR Congo votes amid fears of violence

Polls have opened for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s general elections, after a run-up marred by violence and logistical difficulties – Published on BBCnews, November 28, 2011.

… The BBC’s Mamadou Moussa Ba in the south-eastern mining capital of Lubumbashi says that two vehicles carrying election materials were attacked overnight just outside the city by unknown gunmen. Two people were wounded and all the voting equipment destroyed. In all, 11 candidates are running for president and more than 18,000 are vying for seats in the 500-member parliament.  

In some areas, the ballot paper runs to several pages and resembles a newspaper because there are so many parliamentary candidates.

This is likely to cause some confusion in a country where one-third of adults cannot read or write.

On Sunday, Mr Tshisekedi called off a rally which would have contravened the ban on political gatherings imposed after his supporters came to blows with those of President Kabila on Saturday, leaving three people dead.

Mr Tshisekedi had vowed to ignore the ban and became locked in a seven-hour stand-off with police at Kinshasa airport on Sunday. It ended when he agreed to call off the rally.

Scuffles erupted and police fired tear gas and live ammunition to break up the crowds.

The European Union observer mission criticised both the police and the various candidates over the pre-election violence.

Delaying Mr Tshisekedi from leaving the airport had been “a serious impediment” to his right to campaign, the mission said.

The United Nations too, criticised the security forces.

“The security forces should refrain from any acts that could heighten tensions and create any difficulties on the eve of elections,” Reuters news agency quoted Mounoubai Madnodje, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, as saying.

The last election, in 2006, was marred by weeks of street battles led by supporters of the losing candidate, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

A former rebel leader, he is now on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

BBC East Africa correspondent Will Ross says that whether it is peaceful or not this time will depend to a great extent on the behaviour of the candidates and whether the losers are willing to accept defeat. (full text).

Links:

DR Congo voters: What elections mean to us, on Al Jazeera, Nov. 27, 2011;

DR Congo’s displaced see vote as route home
, on Al Jazeera, Nov. 27, 2011.

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