Violence claims 13 in DRC

Demonstrators in the western city of Matadi attacked and killed the soldier last Friday before troops retaliated, firing on the crowd and killing 12 civilians, said Christian Malidini, of DRC’s Association of Human Rights Defenders.

Malidini, who spoke by telephone from the city 400km south-west of the capital, Kinshasa, had no further details. Officials in the city couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The deaths were the first reported in the campaign ahead of a scheduled July 30 vote.

Nearly three dozen candidates are vying for the presidency and thousands for Parliament in DRC’s first multiparty elections in 40 years, balloting for a government to take over from a transitional administration arranged in the wake of a 1998 to 2003 civil war that drew armies from neighbouring countries into the vast Central African nation.

Fearing political clashes, the governor of the province that includes Kinshasa announced on state radio that all marches and demonstrations were banned in the city. But groups of young men still took to otherwise deserted streets last week, seeking to assemble to voice support for their candidates. Riot police swinging batons and firing weapons into the sky scattered the crowds. Most shops, banks and schools stayed closed.

Logistical and political problems had led to repeated delays in the voting. DRC’s elections were meant to be held in 2005, but have now been set for the end of the month ‘ even though the mandate expired for the transitional government.

Leading opponents to President Joseph Kabila say his national-unity government was illegitimate as of Friday last week, though the international community disagrees. The official Friday launch of campaigning coincided with the day marking DRC’s independence from Belgium in 1960 ‘ a potentially combustible mix of history and politics in a country without a tradition of peaceful politics.

The country’s 62-million people hope a democratically elected leadership can bring long-term peace after decades of corrupt rule and the war, whose aftershocks continue to kill.

The presidential race has 33 candidates and 9 000 are running for the 600-plus seats in the National Assembly and Senate. ‘ Sapa-AP.

July 2006
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