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Congo Police Fire Tear Gas at Demonstrators as Campaigning Starts

Congolese police fired tear gas at groups of opposition supporters protesting against elections they say are not set up to be free and fair. The pockets of violence erupted as some presidential and parliamentary candidates got their campaigns into full swing.

Pockets of violence and threats of mass demonstrations Friday marred the first full day of campaigning for the Democratic Republic of Congo's first national elections in over 40 years.

Police fired tear gas at groups of opposition supporters. The demonstrators said President Joseph Kabila's fragile transitional government has failed to organize Congo's elections on time, so the government should resign. The elections have been repeatedly postponed since last year.

After campaigning was launched late Thursday for the July 30 presidential and parliamentary polls, the first free vote in the former Belgian colony for over four decades, banners and billboards promoting candidates have sprung up around town.

But demonstrators also began their attempts to sabotage the campaign, pulling down some banners, saying the Congolese should not take part in a vote that cannot be free and fair.

Several people were arrested during the morning violence.

Last year, scores of opposition supporters were killed and injured during similar anti-government demonstrations, also launched on June 30, a date that was originally supposed to be the deadline for post-war elections.

Congo's last war officially ended in 2003, but still simmers, adding to the four million killed since 1998.