DRC church group calls vote delay 'unjust'

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Democratic Republic of Congo (iStock)
Democratic Republic of Congo (iStock)

Democratic Republic of Congo's national organisation of Episcopal churches is criticising as "unjust" the decision to bar some 1 million people from voting in the presidential election on Sunday because of an Ebola virus outbreak.

The statement calls on DRC's electoral commission to reconsider its decision that carries "such high risks" and does nothing to help the country emerge from political crisis. Protests have followed the decision, with one Ebola centre attacked.

Health officials had said precautions were in place so people in the Ebola outbreak zone could vote. The church statement calls the government's sudden political turnaround "very grave and with heavy consequences."

The statement asks why residents in Beni and Butembo cities were OK to vote on the original election date of December 23 but three days later were suddenly ruled out.

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The Oxfam aid organisation says it is suspending its Ebola outbreak response work in Democratic Republic of Congo because of violent protests by people barred from voting in Sunday's presidential election.

The Oxfam statement comes after DRC's electoral commission delayed voting in the Ebola-affected eastern cities of Beni and Butembo until March. That's well after DRC's next president is inaugurated in January.

Acting Oxfam country director Raphael Mbuyi calls the situation "extremely worrying" because any suspension in efforts to contain the deadly Ebola virus has led to a spike in new cases.

Mbuyi adds, however, "it's not surprising that people who have had their votes taken away at the last minute are frustrated and going to the streets. These people deserve to have their say as well."

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Democratic Republic of Congo's health ministry says the uproar over a delayed presidential election in two cities hit by a deadly Ebola outbreak has "badly disrupted" work to contain the virus.

The ministry's statement says health teams could barely deploy in Beni and Butembo on Thursday and no Ebola vaccinations could be carried out.

Protests erupted in Beni for a second straight day after DRC's electoral commission announced that voting in the two cities would be delayed until March. That's well after everyone else votes on Sunday - and after DRC's next president is inaugurated in January.

The opposition says the votes of an estimated 1 million people therefore will not count.

DRC's health minister has said health authorities and electoral authorities had worked together on preparing for the election and that precautions had been taken to protect voters.

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