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UN Urges Congo to Ease Pre-Election Rhetoric

Visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo just weeks ahead of historic elections, U.N. Security Council ambassadors said politicians there must tone down political rhetoric. Hundreds of opposition supporters also demonstrated in the capital, using the high-level visit to try to push for talks before the polls, which are due on July 30.

Campaigning for Congo's polls has not officially begun, but U.N. Security Council representatives visiting Kinshasa sent a strong message to the country's politicians.

Fearing they were inciting ethnic tensions and instability, diplomats called for Congo's leaders to tone down the messages they were sending out before the historic polls.

In meetings with Congo's president, four vice-presidents and civil society leaders, the Security Council representatives stressed the need to focus on policies and visions for the country, rather than personalities and nationalities.

Congo is due to hold its first free poll in more than 40 years next month with a view to offering the mineral-rich, but war-torn country a fresh start. But the lead up to the elections is proving tense, with threats of boycotts and claims of political intimidation from the opposition.

During the weekend, Congolese and U.N. officials warned that lessons must to be learned from Rwanda and Ivory Coast, where hate media had incited waves of violence.

Hundreds of opposition supporters took to the streets, using the Security Council visit to repeat calls for negotiations before the elections in an effort to ensure the process is free and fair.

Having been initially allowed to demonstrate, the crowds were dispersed in the afternoon by police firing tear gas and live ammunition into the air.

The international community has invested billions of dollars in Congo's peace process and sees the holding of elections as a mark of success.

But violence continues in much of the east of the country, where rebels remain active, while the national army is in chaos, and 1,000 civilians continue to die every day, mostly from war-related hunger and disease.

The United Nations has its largest peacekeeping mission in the Congo, but it also struggles while gunmen hold seven blue helmets hostage.