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December 11, 2011

East Congo Opposition to Protest Kabila Election

by Heather Murdock

Opposition leaders in eastern Congo are planning to protest the disputed re-election of President Joseph Kabila beginning Tuesday morning.  And while organizers say the protests will be peaceful, some opposition supporters say they fear rallies will spark violence.

Protesters around the world, and in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, have been holding rallies since before the November 28 vote that opposition leaders called a "mock election."

Tuesday, opposition supporters in Goma, the capital of North Kivu, a war-torn eastern province, plan to march on the electoral commission and the governor’s office.   Protesters say they will demand the government recognize the authority of Etienne Tshisekedi, the self-proclaimed elected president of Congo.

Rubens Mikindo is a leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party in Goma.  It is the party of Mr. Tshisekedi, who finished second in the official ballot count, with 32 percent of the vote.  Mr. Kabila won with 49 percent.

Mikindo says the police and local authorities are prepared for the rally, and protesters will be protected by the considerable show of military might already on the streets of Goma.

He says supporters of Mr. Tshisekedi will be joined by members of the Union for the Nation of Congo, the party of Vital Kamerhe, who came in third in the presidential race with 7.7 percent of the vote.  Other, smaller parties will take part as well.  Mikindo says protesters have been instructed to be peaceful, and not damage any properties.  He says does not know how many people may attend.

Other opposition officials say despite their non-violent intentions there is no guarantee the day will end without incident.  They say rallies will continue throughout the week and beyond.

But behind a tin door in one of Goma’s many slums, some opposition supporters say protests in Goma will not remain peaceful in this province, where conflict involving rebel groups, militias and the government still rages in the countryside.  Fifty-eight-year-old Felix Badila says he is angered by Mr. Kabila’s election, but he will not join the protests.

Badila says he fears any protests will not remain calm, and security forces will react in kind.  On Sunday, Congolese officials said they were prepared to deal "harshly" with anyone caught disturbing the peace.