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Protests in eastern DRC after new election delay

Demonstrations erupted a day after the DRC’s national election commission announced that the nationwide vote would be postponed in several troubled areas until March.

FILE: A citizen of Goma climbs up the wall at the entrance of Stadium 'des Volcans' during the election rally of the presidential candidate Emmanuel Ramazany Shadary in Goma on 16 December 2018. Picture: AFP.

BENI - Police fired tear gas and shots were heard as hundreds of people in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) protested on Thursday at a move to delay upcoming elections in their region, an AFP reporter said.

Demonstrations erupted a day after the Democratic Republic of Congo’s national election commission announced that Sunday’s nationwide vote would be postponed in several troubled areas until March.

However, the vote will continue to take place in the rest of the country as scheduled, and the next president will be sworn in on 18 January, it said.

In the province of North Kivu, the region most affected by the decision, several hundred demonstrators gathered in the administrative district of the city of Beni.

Gunshots were heard over a roughly hour-long period, but it was unclear who was shooting or if there were any casualties.

In Goma, the provincial capital, demonstrators set up barricades in the districts of Majengo and Katimbo and at the entrance to the university.

Police fired tear gas and made at least half a dozen arrests, said an AFP reporter at the scene.

The election postponement applies to the cities of Beni and Butembo in North Kivu, as well as to the territory of Yumbi in the southwestern province of Mai-Ndombe.

Around 3% of some 40 million registered voters will be affected by the delay.

The announcement by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) blamed militia violence and an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu, and inter-communal clashes in Yumbi.

Sunday’s election will be the DRC’s first presidential ballot in seven years.

Legislative and municipal elections are being held at the same time.

The presidential vote should have been held in 2016 when President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, reached a two-term limit set under the constitution.

But he remained in office, invoking a caretaker clause under the constitution.

The elections were twice postponed until a new date was set for 23 December, and were then delayed by another week. CENI blamed a warehouse fire that destroyed election equipment.

The problems have fuelled tensions in the DRC, one of Africa’s most volatile countries, prompting concern among its neighbours, the UN and western powers.