At least 3 killed during DRC opposition rally

Three people were killed on Wednesday in clashes with police on the sidelines of an opposition rally in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of this month's presidential elections, sources said.

The violence erupted in Kalemie, a town on Lake Tanganyika, as opposition candidate Martin Fayulu was campaigning there.

It came a day after two of Fayulu's supporters were killed and 43 hurt in clashes at a rally in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo's second-largest city.

Two witnesses said "live rounds" were fired after the opposition candidate arrived in Kalemie and headed to the venue.

Fayulu blamed the violence on police as well as on "armed youths on drugs" who, he said, were "dressed in PPRD clothing," a reference to the country's ruling party.

"I saw people shooting and I saw a lady fall in front of me," he told AFP.

He added: "Despite everything, we reached the venue for the rally, we held the rally."

Fayulu's aides said three people were killed. A local doctor told AFP there were three bodies at the hospital morgue, while an emergency responder said his team had picked up four bodies.

Fayulu, 62, a little-known lawmaker and former oil executive, has made a late surge after being named the joint candidate for several opposition parties.

Powder keg

The DRC is in the throes of a major campaign ahead of the December 23 election to choose a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the vast central African country since 2001.

But fears of violence run deep.

The nation has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

In the past 22 years, two massive wars have shaken the country, claiming millions of lives and sucking in armies from around southern and central Africa.

Lower-level conflicts are burning in the centre and east of the DRC which could easily flare into fully-fledged wars, analysts warn.

Kabila has remained in office as caretaker leader even though his second and final term ended nearly two years ago.

Twenty-one candidates are running to replace him.

As well as Fayulu, the front-runners are Felix Tshisekedi of the mainstream opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Kabila's handpicked successor.

The violence on Tuesday in Lubumbashi came as Fayulu sought to attend a rally there.

A civil rights group, the Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ) said two people were killed and 43 hurt, 15 with gunshot wounds, according to a provisional toll. The police said 11 police and two civilians were injured. It did not mention any fatalities.

Fayulu said on Tuesday he had been prevented by police from reaching the rally in Lubumbashi.

On Wednesday, he said the authorities had blocked him from flying from Kalemie to the next stop on his schedule, the southern mining city of Kolwezi.

"I am in Goma. They diverted us. They told us that we have no other choice, either Kinshasa, Goma or Bukavu," he said, referring to a phone conversation with the powerful National Intelligence Agency (ANR).

The UN's special envoy for the DRC, Leila Zerrougui, issued a statement deploring lives lost in pre-election violence and called on the government to "take the necessary steps to avoid new incidents."

Election equipment

In a separate development Wednesday, the DRC's election commission said it had completed the deployment of voting equipment and tested it.

In a posting on Twitter, the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) said that, despite "difficulties", it could "reassure (the public) that all the election equipment has arrived across the country and in towns and, after technical verification, is in a good operational status."

The technical and logistical side of the vote has become a fierce political issue.

Some opposition parties are contesting the use of Korean-made electronic voting machines, saying the touchscreen devices can be hacked or the results manipulated.

CENI argued in return that the machines, which also provide a printout to the voter, were completely secure and the only way to quickly tally results across the DRC, a country four times the size of France but hobbled by poor infrastructure.

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