Kinshasa: At least 18 people have been killed and 100 seriously injured in election violence in Congo, with most of the deaths caused by troops loyal to President Joseph Kabila, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
The violence peaked on Saturday when tens of thousands of people descended on Kinshasa`s airport to welcome leading opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi who was returning from campaigning in the interior. In the government crackdown that followed, at least 14 people were killed, according to a report by the New York-based human rights group.
Soldiers fired into the crowd, hitting Ndelela Aminata, a 27-year-old mother of five in the head, the report said. Among the other victims was a 22-year-old who was shot dead while walking outside a manioc granary near the airport.
The group says others were killed in mob violence on the first day of voting on Monday and in clashes between political parties.
Analysts are concerned that there could be further bloodshed when the election results are announced, scheduled for next Tuesday. The Human Rights Watch report blamed most of the deaths on Kabila`s Republican Guard. Kabila is seeking re-election.
Congo`s enormous territory still includes sections of the bush that are controlled by rebel groups, like in the east where the brutal Lord`s Resistance Army is known to be based.
In Oriental province near the town of Faradje, Human Rights Watch says the Lord`s Resistance Army attacked a group of voters on their way to the polling place. Three men were killed, and ten women and three boys were abducted. The report says that one of the women, who was six months` pregnant, was raped. She was later released and taken to the hospital but lost her baby.
In several parts of the country, polling stations were burned by angry voters after ballots failed to arrive, and suspicion grew about possible vote rigging. The voting was finally wrapped up on Thursday
This is only the second free election in Congo`s 51-year history, and the first to be organized entirely by the government instead of by the international community. The logistical challenges are casting a cloud of doubt over the vote, and three of the 11 candidates running for president have already called for the ballot to be annulled.