The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo has warned it may not accept the results of elections later this month if the polls are unfair. The influential Church's message was brushed aside by those organizing the polls, but coincided with statements by the United Nations that one of President Joseph Kabila's challengers was being prevented from campaigning.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Catholic Church has staunchly supported the nation's the struggle for democracy.

And with just ten days to go until the former Belgian colony is due to hold polls billed as the first free elections in over 40 years, the church warned that it would not recognize the results of the vote unless alleged flaws were fixed.

Senior bishops issued a statement saying that concerns over fraud and vote rigging were valid and that the vast war-torn country was not ready to hold free elections.

Over half of Congo's estimated population of 60 million are Catholic, and the church carries a strong influence in a country where the government's authority has collapsed.

However, the head of the country's electoral commission rejected the church's threats as merely one opinion among many and said the elections he was organizing were legal and would definitely take place on July 30.

A total of 33 presidential hopefuls are standing for Congo's top job and nearly 10,000 have joined the race for the 500 seats in Congo's parliament.

The polls are being seen as a key step in helping the country recover from the 1998-2003 war, which involved six neighboring countries and killed some four million people. 

But the lead up to the polls has been tarnished by violent campaigning, demonstrations and accusations of harassment and intimidation by incumbent President Joseph Kabila's government.

The U.N. peace-keeping mission in Congo, which is trying to help hold the country together and organize the polls, said that Oscar Kashala, one of Mr. Kabila's rivals, had been particularly targeted and had been repeatedly blocked from campaigning.