DRC rallies banned amid escalating violence
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Police in Kinshasa banned rallies on Saturday after a man died and teargas was used to disperse opposition supporters on the final day of campaigning for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s polls.
Kinshasa police chief Jean de Dieu Oleko said a man had been hit in the head with a stone near the airport where thousands of people gathered to meet the main rivals in Monday’s presidential race—incumbent Joseph Kabila and veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.
“We have decided to ban all gatherings and meetings, there has been a death,” Oleko said at the airport.
He said police were investigating reports that a second person had died but said no further details on either incident were immediately available.
Kinshasa governor Andre Kimbuta, a Kabila ally, confirmed the ban.
Marred by clashes
Police gunfire also injured at least two people as officers at the airport fired shots—both in the air and at crowd level—to disperse Tshisekedi supporters.
Police also fired teargas at the airport and at the square where Tshisekedi was due to hold his last rally after a tense campaign that has been marred by a series of clashes between the two rivals’ camps.
An official in Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) said the police ban was a bid to silence the party.
“It’s political intolerance. It’s the only way for them to stifle the people’s expression. We’re not going to let them do this to us,” Jacquemin Shabani, UDPS secretary general, said.
Throngs of supporters had gathered along the main road to the airport to welcome their candidates back from their respective campaign stops—Tshisekedi’s brandishing palm fronds for an arrival his party described as “Like Jesus entering Jerusalem”.
But the thousands-strong crowd had dwindled to a few hundred after the incidents.
Tensions were already high going into the last day of campaigning after both Kabila and Tshisekedi’s camps said on Friday that they planned to hold their final rallies in Kinshasa’s largest stadium, Stade des Martyrs.
Tshisekedi’s camp later decided to move its rally to a nearby boulevard, local media reported. But as crowds gathered in the streets, the atmosphere grew increasingly heated.
At the airport, some Tshisekedi supporters threw stones at a vehicle carrying the Kinshasa governor when he arrived with a motorcycle escort.
And when pickup trucks brought in some 20 military police, the opposition leader’s backers met them with cries of “Leave, Kabila soldiers!”
UDPS supporters also stoned Kabila’s empty presidential convoy when it came to await his arrival.
A third leading presidential candidate from the field of 11 contenders, ex-national assembly speaker Vital Kamerhe, had also planned to hold his final rally in Kinshasa, adding to the potentially explosive atmosphere.
Kabila, who was born on the other side of the country, in the eastern province of Sud-Kivu, is not very popular in the capital and there is a pitched battle for the city’s votes.
Kabila speaks little Lingala, the main local language, and grew up in exile in Tanzania with his rebel father, Laurent—from whom he inherited power in 2001 after his assassination.
But he enjoys more popularity in other parts of the country and is tipped as the favourite running in a single-round election against a divided opposition.
The elections are just the DRC’s second since back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2003 whose scars are still fresh.
The UN Security Council, the European Union and other Western governments had all voiced concern at violence in the run-up to the vote and called for a peaceful end to the campaign.—AFP