A leading opposition candidate in Congo accused police of using bullets to break up a demonstration on Wednesday in the capital, as demonstrators called for a repeat of last week’s presidential election.
Clutching a bullet, Martin Fayoulou told The Associated Press that it landed near him while he was barricaded inside his headquarters during a standoff with police. His claim could not be verified.
Police said no live bullets were used, only tear gas, and that they were restoring order. AP reporters saw police physically assaulting some of the protesters.
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Fayoulou is one of the five opposition candidates who called the protest.
Some rights groups and international observers also questioned the vote and claimed it was illegally extended. Many polling stations were late to start and some did not open at all. Some had no materials and many voter cards were illegible as the ink had smeared.
In some parts of Congo, people were still voting five days after the election.
“I feel bad that it is no longer a country,” Fayoulou said, adding that the Congolese will not accept it if President Felix Tshisekendi is declared the winner of another term. If there is no re-election, the protests will continue, Fayoulou said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Tshisekedi had nearly 79 percent of the vote, opposition leader and businessman Moise Katumbi had about 14 percent and Fayulu had about 4 percent of about 6 million votes counted. Final results are expected before the new year.
Tshisekedi has spent much of his time in power trying to win legitimacy after disputed 2018 elections, where some observers said Fayulu was the rightful winner. Some 44 million people – almost half the population – were expected to vote in this year’s contest.
The election observation mission of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo and the Church of Christ in Congo said more than 27 percent of polling stations did not open and there were 152 reports of violence, confrontations or fighting. This is based on a sample of 1,185 observer reports.
At least 100 protesters gathered around Fayulu’s headquarters on Wednesday, throwing stones and burning tires. Some barricaded themselves inside as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Some officers broke into the headquarters.
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“We do not agree with these elections that have just been held. We the people want peace in the country, so we are asking for the elections to be credible, transparent and peaceful,” said one protester, Christian Lamba.
Protesters had hoped to march on the electoral commission, but the government on Tuesday banned the protest.
Fayulu’s aide, Prince Epenge, pointed to a blood-stained floor at the headquarters and claimed 11 people were injured and taken to hospital. This could not be immediately confirmed.
Human rights groups have warned that there could be more protests.
“If (the election commission) decides to go ahead, it will plunge the country into utter chaos and the people will not let their rights be trampled by a group of power-hungry individuals,” said Crispin Chiya, an activist with the local rights. FIGHT.