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Protests over possible election delays turn violent

KINSHASA, 11 Jan 2005 (IRIN) - A comment by the head of the election commission on the possible delay of national elections sparked violent demonstrations on Monday in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The stone-throwing demonstrators burned tyres blocking the city's main streets while police shot in the air to try to disperse the crowds. Local news media reported that several people were killed and injured, but the reports could not be confirmed.

Government spokesman Henri Mova Sakanyi blamed the violence on supporters of long-time opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

"Members of the Union pour la democratie pour le Progres social tried to provoke disorder," Sakanyi said.

However, the party's national secretary, Jean-Baptiste Bonanza, denied his party had anything to do with the demonstration.

"People were spontaneously expressing their opposition at efforts to prolong the transitional period," Bonanza said.

As part of a 2003 peace agreement to end armed conflict in the DRC, the government and all rebels groups agreed to form a transitional government until national elections were held on 30 June 2005. Nevertheless, on Friday the president of the Independent Electoral Commission, Apollinaire Malu Malu, said that the elections might be delayed to later in the year.

"I don't want to dwell too much on the date of 30 June because the constitution allows for a further six-month extension with the possibility of a one-time renewal," Malu Malu had said on local radio.

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