Several wounded as DR Congo police break up banned election protest

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KINSHASA, Dec 27 (Reuters) – Several people were wounded in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital on Wednesday as riot police forcibly dispersed a banned protest by the opposition, who are calling for a re-run of last week’s chaotic national elections.

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The disputed vote threatens to further destabilise poverty-stricken Congo, which is already grappling with a security crisis in the east that has hampered development in the world’s top producer of cobalt and other industrial minerals and metals.

Police surrounded the headquarters of Martin Fayulu, one of five of President Felix Tshisekedi’s challengers who had called on their supporters to march in Kinshasa on Wednesday against the presidential and legislative poll, which they say was fraudulent and should be annulled. Tshisekedi’s administration has dismissed the claims.

Tshisekedi “did not win the election, his victory is fraudulent,” said one protester, who gave his name as Jean-Pierre.

The opposition vowed to proceed even after the government banned the protest on Tuesday, saying it was intended to undermine the work of the national election commission (CENI) as it compiles results that for now give Tshisekedi a strong lead.

Police fired tear gas and threw rocks at people outside and inside the headquarters, who were also throwing rocks, a Reuters witness said.

Fayulu accused the security forces of heavy-handedness and said 11 people had been injured.

“You see how the police attacked us. Our program was simple: gather little by little and head to CENI headquarters,” he told journalists.

A Reuters reporter saw members of Fayulu’s team carrying wounded people from the scene and taking them to hospital.

Kinshasa police chief Blaise Kilimba Limba said two police officers had been injured by stones as well as a number of civilians.

Attempts to gather elsewhere in the city were rapidly thwarted amid the heavy security presence. Some protesters tried to block roads with burning tires before police intervened.

CREDIBILITY CONCERNS
In a sign of tension elsewhere, supporters of a local candidate, who appeared to be losing, briefly blocked roads and disrupted traffic with burning tires in the eastern city of Butembo, before dispersing.

The unrest follows the Dec. 20 vote, which was marred by delays delivering election kits, malfunctioning equipment and disorganised voting lists. Violence also disrupted the poll in some places.

The protest organisers have heavily criticised the CENI’s decision to extend voting at polling stations that failed to open on election day, calling it unconstitutional and grounds for a full re-run.

Some independent observers have also said the extension undermines the credibility of the poll.

CENI has acknowledged there were delays but denied that the legitimacy of the election was compromised by extending some voting.

Its latest tally on Tuesday put Tshisekedi well ahead of his 18 challengers, with almost 79% of around 6.1 million votes counted so far.

Around 44 million were registered to vote, although the number of ballots cast remains unknown.

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