Top DRC court to rule on presidential challenge

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Supreme Court will announce its ruling in failed presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba’s challenge to the election results on Monday, presiding Judge Kalonda Kele said.

The court has been examining Bemba’s legal challenge to the presidential elections since November 20 after the Independent Election Commission declared the incumbent president the winner with 58,05% of votes in the second round.

Bemba’s communications director, Moise Musangana, alleged last week that ballot boxes had been stuffed, turnout figures inflated in President Joseph Kabila strongholds and the overall results falsified.

Musangana also said Kabila’s campaign had been given preferential treatment during the run-up to the vote and observers had been turned away from polling stations on the day.

State prosecutor Joseph Mushagalusha had asked the court to reject Bemba’s claims as unfounded and to confirm the election commission’s provisional results.

Kele said the court ruling will be announced on Monday at 5pm (4pm GMT).

Lawyers for Bemba walked out of the Supreme Court earlier on Saturday. His legal team lodged an objection to the Supreme Court, saying there was a “doubt of its impartiality and integrity”.

After a short recess, the court overruled the objection and Bemba’s lawyers walked out, furious. “It is not up to the judges to overrule an objection made against themselves,” lead lawyer Jean-Marie Tshibangu said.

“This is a legal con; it’s a farce,” another of the vice-president’s lawyers said.
The lawyers went back to court after consultation with their client, Tshibangu said.

From Tuesday to Thursday, the court sessions had been in recess after Bemba supporters looted and torched the court rooms. The sessions resumed under high security on Friday in the Foreign Ministry.

State prosecutor Mushagalusha accused the protesting lawyers of having “no goal except slowing down the proceedings”.

The election results will be officially announced next week.

Violence

Meanwhile, in the restive eastern province of Nord-Kivu, three soldiers with the armed forces of the DRC (FARDC) were killed on Saturday in a rebel attack with heavy weapons at Sake, military sources said.

The attack was the first wide-ranging offensive launched in months by loyalists of Laurent Nkunda, a dissident Congolese general of the Tutsi tribe. Three soldiers of the FARDC’s 11th Brigade were killed and 19 people were injured, including three civilians, in the fighting, said staff at a hospital in Goma, the main town in Nord-Kivu.

The victims, who mainly suffered from bullet and mortar-shell wounds, were transported to Goma by the United Nations mission in DRC (Monuc).

Several of the 11th Brigade’s positions were temporarily taken on Saturday at about 4am local time with attacks using machine-gun fire, rockets and mortars, DRC military and UN sources confirmed.

The most intense fighting was over by late morning, Major Ajay Dalal, Monuc spokesperson in Nord-Kivu, said. “There were still some shots, but calm was mostly restored,” he said.

“All of the 11th Brigades’s positions are under control,” he said, adding that the assailants had “started to pull out again” towards the north-west.

Nkunda, who is wanted for alleged crimes against humanity while his men briefly controlled the eastern city of Bukavu in 2004, is holed up in the mountains north-west of Sake with a force of about 2 000 men, according to Congolese military sources.

Nkunda said in late September that he would not disrupt the DRC elections but warned that he would oppose “with force” any deployment of new brigades in the territory under his control and defend his Congolese Tutsi “brothers” if they were “threatened”.

More than 2 000 FARDC soldiers have been engaged in combat, and Monuc sent 1 000 soldiers on Saturday morning to secure the Sake and Goma areas, the UN said.

The UN said on Saturday that between 15 000 and 20 000 people had been displaced by the fighting. “According to the army, Sake and the surrounding area are empty,” said Andrew Zadel, of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Nord-Kivu.

Kinshasa

In the capital, Kinshasa, tension remained between rival factions who have resorted to post-election violence that has killed 30.

For the third consecutive day, a small group of Bemba’s 1 000-strong military protection force left Kinshasa for Maluku, 80km to the east.

On Wednesday, the Interior Minister, General Denis Kalume, asked Bemba to “neutralise” the elements he described as “uncontrollable” within his protection force who have been implicated in some of the violence since polling started in August.

On Saturday, 32 of Bemba’s soldiers left the capital, a Congolese officer said, bringing the total redeployed to Maluku to 85 since Thursday.

Despite concerns over tension between the Kabila and Bemba supporters, the situation in the capital remained peaceful on Saturday.—Sapa-AFP

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