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JOHANNESBURG – One of Africa’s biggest and most unstable countries is sliding toward a resurgence of armed conflict as a crucial election campaign is increasingly tainted by fraud allegations and violent clashes.
Few people are expecting a fair vote on Nov. 28 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and analysts predict that the mounting distrust is likely to trigger more violence after the election. Up to five million people have died since 1998 in Congo in one of the world’s bloodiest civil wars.
Despite the danger signs, the international community has cut back its support for Congo’s democratic process after providing massive funding for Congo’s first-ever democratic election in 2006. The Canadian government is facing criticism for sending only six observers to monitor the election in a vast country of about 72 million people and 62,000 voting stations.
Congo, formerly known as Zaire, is one of the most mineral-rich and strategically important nations in Africa, attracting billions of dollars of investment by Canadian mining companies alone. A fragile peace agreement was reached in 2003, but fighting has continued in eastern Congo since then, with private militias and government soldiers implicated in rampages of mass rape and other atrocities in remote villages.
President Joseph Kabila has lost popularity since the last election, and the opposition is stronger, analysts say. The main opposition candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi, has drawn up to 80,000 people at his rallies.
But there are concerns that Mr. Kabila will not permit a free election. Police have disrupted or halted many of the opposition rallies with brutal tactics. Four consecutive rallies by Mr. Tshisekedi’s party have turned into violent battles with police, who have fired tear gas and beaten and arrested opposition supporters. Regardless of who wins the election, many observers expect the losers to take to the streets, sparking a new war.
The U.S.-based Carter Center, which is monitoring the Congo election, warned that the campaign has been plagued by “serious incidents of intimidation and violence.” In a statement this month, it said there are “serious threats” that must be addressed immediately if the election is going to be held on schedule.
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