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UN urges Congo to halt violence before long-delayed election

The Democratic Republic of the Congo's joint opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu, left, speaks to his supporters in Beni on December 5, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged the Congolese authorities to halt violence after the government said it was stepping up security for the long-delayed presidential elections scheduled for December 23.

Campaigning for the vote was marred by violence after security forces opened fire to disperse opposition rallies and a fire in the capital Kinshasa ruined thousands of voting machines and ballot boxes earlier this week, raising fears of a repeat of the trouble that hit the 2006 and 2011 polls.

“In an already tense electoral environment, I urge the government to send a clear signal that threats and violence against political opponents will not be tolerated,” Bachelet said in a statement on Friday.

“I am deeply worried about the reports of excessive use of force, including live ammunition, by security forces against opposition rallies,” she added.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said in a press conference said the government was beefing-up security, without elaborating. He also blamed opposition leaders for the latest violence.

At least two people were killed Wednesday in clashes with police on the sidelines of an opposition rally in Kalemie in eastern DR Congo, a day after two of the supporters of opposition candidate Martin Fayulu were killed and 43 hurt in clashes at a rally in Lubumbashi.

"People known for their extremism, and who have evidently received or given themselves the mission to torpedo and debunk the electoral process, have been working to undermine the process over the past few days," Mende said.

However, Fayulu who is running against President Joseph Kabila’s preferred successor, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, rejected the allegations.

Fayulu and the other main opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, said on Thursday that the government was behind the fire that destroyed 80 percent of the capital's machines and which they said could serve as a pretext to further postpone the vote.

The government spokesman said the fire would have "no impact on the electoral process". Election officials are reportedly recalling voting machines from the rest of the country to Kinshasa to replace the machines lost in the blaze.

Kabila took power after the assassination of his father, Laurent, and won subsequent presidential elections in 2006 and 2011.

The 47-year-old leader’s most recent term was officially due to end in late 2016, but the election was postponed as rival factions tried to negotiate a way to avoid a recurrence of deadly violence during the vote, sparking protests in which security forces killed scores of people.

The DR Congo, rich with mineral wealth but plagued by violence, has not had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

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