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February 05, 2007

100 die in clashes between protesters, police in Congo

Story Highlights
• Protesters alleging electoral fraud rampaged through several towns this week
• Security forces called in to restore order, humanitarian organizations said
• Dead include security forces, but most were demonstrators
• Protesters support Jean-Pierre Bemba, who lost election to Joseph Kabila

POSTED: 11:47 a.m. EST, February 2, 2007

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) -- Nearly 100 people died and 30 others were wounded this week in clashes that erupted when demonstrators protesting alleged electoral fraud rampaged through several towns and security forces tried to restore order, rights groups and humanitarian organizations said Friday.

Dolly Ibefo of the rights group Voice for the Voiceless said the killings -- mostly of demonstrators shot by police or soldiers -- had happened since Monday in several towns in southwestern Bas Congo province. The area was reported quiet Friday.

The protests were led by Bundu Dia Kongo, a group that supports former warlord-turned-senator Jean-Pierre Bemba. Violence spread to at least five towns in Bas Congo, including Matadi, Boma, Kasangulu, Kinzaomvwete and Moanda.

Ibefo said the rights group's assessment was based on witness testimony and local rights officials in the troubled southwest province. He said more than a third of the people died in Moanda and the dead included several soldiers and police officers.

Willy Iboma, who heads the local Foundation for the Defense of Children's Rights, said demonstrators in Moanda had rampaged through the town's streets, setting ablaze a police post and several government buildings, prompting security forces to intervene.

Authorities ordered soldiers from nearby Kitona to the area to help restore order, and the soldiers had used automatic weapons and rockets.

"Until now, bodies are still being gathered from the streets and the bush" in Moanda after violence reached its peak there Thursday, Iboma told The Associated Press by telephone from the town.

Leader says protest was 'bloodily repressed'
Government officials could not be reached for comment on the violence, and a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, Kemal Saiki, said the U.N. had not obtained any official toll. The bulk of the U.N.'s 18,000 peacekeepers are deployed on the other side of the country, which is wracked by sporadic fighting involving militias and renegade army units.

Speaking by telephone from the capital, Kinshasa, the head of Bundu Dia Kongo, Ne Mwanda Ne Semi, described the events in Bas Congo as "a peaceful protest that was bloodily repressed by police and soldiers."

"The whole of Bas Congo is rising up against corruption that has infected all the elections and especially the election of senators and governors," Semi said.

Gubernatorial elections took place last weekend and the legislative vote was held a week before that.

Shuttered shops, barricades of car hulks
Local radio stations said Thursday that shops and street stalls were shuttered in the towns and residents had taken cover as protesters barricaded streets with the shells of destroyed cars.

Bemba, a former warlord who once controlled a vast territory in northern Congo and became vice president in a power-sharing deal that ended the country's 1998-2002 war and re-united the country, won a senatorial seat last month.

Bemba's militia clashed with President Joseph Kabila's forces twice last year, as results were announced in the initial presidential vote and the runoff that marked Congo's first free elections for a head of state since wresting independence from Belgium in 1960.

Posted by Publisher at February 5, 2007 01:48 PM


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