KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congolese police fired tear gas to try to disperse several hundred opposition supporters marching in the capital Thursday to demonstrate against alleged fraud in the run up to elections later this year.
The protest is the latest sign of growing tension in Democratic Republic of Congo before presidential and parliamentary polls in November, the second set of elections since the last war ended in 2003. Analysts say they could be hit by delays and a lack of confidence in the process.
A Reuters reporter said about three hundred supporters of leading opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi, carrying banners and palm fronds, tried to reach the offices of the electoral commission in the centre of Kinshasa.
They were dispersed by hundreds of armed police who fired tear gas, the reporter said.
Jacquemain Shabani Lukoo, the secretary general of Tshisekedi’s UDPS party, said police had fired live rounds and there had been casualties but that could not be confirmed.
Communications Minister Lambert Mende accused the protesters of not liaising with the police on holding their demonstration.
Facing a still divided opposition, incumbent President Joseph Kabila is seen as favourite for re-election.
Tshisekedi’s party called for a “march of rage” to protest against what the opposition says is “massive fraud” in the electoral lists.
The opposition says there has been a widespread double registration of voters and that children have been allowed to register in pro-Kabila areas.
The electoral commission rejects the accusations and said there were just 20,000 duplicate registrations on the voter register of some 32 million.
Fears over delays and spiralling costs for the poll are mounting as much of the election equipment is still abroad and international backers, who played a prominent role in the 2006 elections, are taking a back seat this time.
Reporting by Jonny Hogg; editing by David Lewis and Elizabeth Piper