Congo: 2 killed in clashes days ahead of poll

November 26, 2011 - 11:20 AM
CONGO ELECTION

A sea of electoral posters line the streets of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday Nov. 25, 2011. On Monday Nov. 28 2011, Congolese will elect their president and national assembly. between 11 contenders for president and 18,835 for the 500 parliamentary seats. The election commission has set itself a Friday deadline to deliver 186,000 ballot boxes and more than 64 million ballot papers to nearly 64,000 polling stations, in a country of 2,345,000 square kilometres (906,000 square miles) -- 77 times the size of former colonial ruler Belgium. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Two people were killed Saturday in pre-vote clashes in Congo's capital and police fired bullets and tear gas into a large crowd that included many opposition supporters, an AP photographer said. The violence prompted officials to ban further rallies before Monday's poll.

The photographer saw at least two dead bodies after violence erupted between political supporters and after police shot into the crowd at the airport in Kinshasa. Police also later fired tear gas and appeared to prevent opposition presidential candidate Etienne Tshisekedi from leaving the scene.

Saturday's violence prompted the governor to call off political rallies ahead of Monday's vote.

Human rights groups expressed fears about an atmosphere of spiraling violence and hate speech ahead of the vote in the vast mineral-rich nation. The outcome of the vote is almost certain to keep President Joseph Kabila in power.

Earlier this month in Kinshasa, gunmen fired on Tshisekedi campaigners putting up posters, wounding two. In the southern mining city of Lubumbashi, another 16 were injured in violence pitting Tshisekedi's supporters against a rival opposition party. Young people in the eastern city of Goma took to the streets after popular folk musician Fabrice Mumpfiritsa was kidnapped after he refused to sing songs supporting Kabila. He was found three days later, legs and eyes bound and so badly beaten he had to be hospitalized.

Voters will be choosing between 11 presidential candidates and more than 18,000 candidates for the 500-seat parliament. It's country's first election since the landmark 2006 vote which was considered the country's first democratic vote in 40 years, but was marred by weeks of street battles led by supporters of the losing candidate.

How the elections unfold will be a likely indicator of whether Congo is consolidating its fledgling democracy or returning to a state of widespread instability after decades of dictatorship and civil war, according to the International Crisis Group.

Western nations have spent billions of dollars trying to stabilize Congo, where China also has massively invested in recent years.

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Associated Press writer Saleh Mwanamilongo contributed to this report from Kinshasa, Congo.