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DR Congo: UN soldiers intervene after demonstrators set fire to Supreme Court

DR Congo: UN soldiers intervene after demonstrators set fire to Supreme Court

Court house engulfed in flames
United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) shot into the air today to disperse supporters of the losing candidate in the presidential elections and restore order after demonstrators opened fire and set the Supreme Court and a police vehicle ablaze in Kinshasa, the capital.

The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) said 150 men from its Uruguayan battalion reinforced local police after tear gas failed to disperse supporters of Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba who had gathered to attend the first hearing of an appeal of provisional results showing him losing to incumbent President Joseph Kabila. MONUC security personnel evacuated the Court and there were no immediate reports of casualties.

“MONUC strongly deplores this new outbreak of violence and unjustified vandalism and calls on all sides to maintain calm,” the mission said in a statement, ascribing the blame to “rogue elements” among some 200 demonstrators in this latest outbreak of election-related violence.

Last week, UN officials from Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council to regional UN envoys appealed for calm, calling on “all political actors to refrain from any provocation, incitement to hatred or recourse to violence” after violence in Kinshasa had led to the deaths of four people.

The elections, the largest and most complex polls that the UN has ever helped to organize, were aimed at cementing the vast and impoverished country’s transition to stability after a brutal six-year civil war, which cost 4 million lives through fighting and attendant hunger and disease. Factional fighting has remained a problem since the end of the war, especially in the east.

The elections for president, national and local assemblies, which began at the end of July and culminated with the presidential run-off on 29 October, were the first free polls in more than four decades. Throughout the long process UN agencies helped to deliver tens of millions of ballots and other supplies to some 50,000 polling stations, train 12,000 polling supervisors and plan for the safety of the 25.7 million Congolese registered to vote.