Opposition Protesters Fight Congo Police

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 25, 2006; 4:40 PM

KINSHASA, Congo -- Thousands of opposition supporters clashed with riot police Tuesday, burning President Joseph Kabila's campaign posters before historic weekend elections meant to bring lasting peace to Congo.

Security forces swung batons and fired tear gas at protesters, who threw Molotov cocktails and chunks of masonry in the streets of the capital, Kinshasa. There was no immediate word on injuries.

Young people made up most of the seething 4,000-person crowd in an outlying slum. One onlooker said they were outraged by their poverty after years of war and corrupt rule that has hobbled their vast, mineral-rich nation.

"Our poverty stems from our politics, which don't work. Our leaders are corrupt and sell our riches overseas while we have nothing," said Bob Massoud, 23, an artist. "We're mad because we're suffering. Everyone is angry."

The atmosphere is tense in the Central African nation ahead of Sunday's vote _ the first free, multiparty elections for president and parliament in decades.

The protesters, representing two opposition parties, alleged that irregularities in the voters' roll and the printing of 5 million spare ballot papers suggest the vote is being fixed. Election authorities reject the charges.

Kabila is believed to be the front-runner among 33 candidates seeking to lead the country out of a transition period following back-to-back wars that ended in 2002.

Many Congolese feel gratitude toward Kabila for negotiating a settlement that ended five years of war sparked by his father, Laurent, a former rebel leader who took power after his troops chased longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko from the country in 1997.

Kabila inherited the presidency in 2001 after his father was assassinated and has led a national-unity government overseeing peace deals that ended the wars.

But the protesters say Kabila, 35, is not a natural-born Congolese because his mother is Rwandan. They note that he spent much of his youth outside Congo and cannot speak its main trading language, Lingala.

The demonstrators burned banners bearing Kabila's smiling face and the slogan: "In peace, we're reconstructing the country."

Violence continues to wrack Congo's eastern borderlands near Rwanda and Uganda _ two of the six nations that fought in its wars. Aid groups say some 4 million Congolese have died during the war, mostly of hunger or disease stemming from the fighting.

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