DR Congo elections: more than 8,000 voting machines burnt

President’s top advisor says ‘criminals’ behind massive fire just days before presidential election

Congolese soldier
A member of the Congolese army stands guard
(Image credit: Phil Moore/AFP)

Thousands of voting machines have been destroyed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo less than ten days before the presidential election, risking a flare-up of violence as tensions continue to soar.

Congolese citizens are due to go to the polls on 23 December to elect a replacement for President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the restive Central African nation since 2001.

But around 8,000 voting machines - 70% of those due to be used by voters in capital Kinshasa - were destroyed when a fire broke out at the warehouse where they were being stored in the early hours on Thursday.

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Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, an adviser to the president, told Paris-based news agency AFP that that blaze had been started deliberately by “criminals”.

Despite the setback, the DR Congo’s election commission said that “voting materials from other parts of the country will be sent to Kinshasa, and election preparations will continue as planned”, CNN reports.

All the same, the incident is another blow to the country’s fragile journey towards its first ever peaceful transition of elected power.

Regional analysts had suggested that Kabila might attempt to overturn the constitution term limits preventing him from remaining in office, or simply ignore them altogether.

The 47-year-old has “wilfully allowed the country to slip into fragmentary chaos” over the past 17 years, while tightening his own grip on power, says the Financial Times.

He announced in August that he would step aside after being “pressed by protesters who have taken to the streets in their tens of thousands and by a Catholic Church that, unique among Congolese institutions, enjoys legitimacy”, the newspaper adds.

The run-up to the election has seen a spate of violence and disorder.

On Wednesday, three people were shot dead near a rally for opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, AFP reports. Fayulu blamed the deaths on police and paramilitaries affiliated with Kabila’s ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).

The day before the shooting, two opposition supporters were killed and more than 40 injured at another rally in Lubumbashi, the DRC’s second-largest city.

Videos uploaded to Facebook by a member of Fayulu’s entourage “show the use of water cannons and tear gas by security forces on the motorcade and the surrounding crowd”, France 24 reports.

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