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Protests follow burning of Bemba's radio, television stations

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©  Eddy Isango/IRIN

A protester stands in the burning compound of former rebel leader and current Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba's bodyguards in Kinshasa, DRC, 27 July 2006.

KINSHASA, 19 Sep 2006 (IRIN) - Fears that fighting could reignite in Kinshasa increased on Tuesday as supporters of presidential contender Jean-Pierre Bemba set up barricades and burned tyres to protest at the destruction of his radio and television stations the day before.

"We want to get weapons to right the wrongs committed by those who are trying to silence and kill Bemba," a supporter said before the police dispersed the demonstration.

After reports of Monday's fire, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed for calm. "Any incitement to hatred and violence during the electoral period is unacceptable, and anyone engaging in such activity must be held accountable," Stephane Dujarric, his spokesman, said.

When results were announced for the first round of elections on 21 August, guards working for Bemba and the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, fought pitched battles in central Kinshasa, killing at least 23 people. A second presidential run-off is set for 29 October between Bemba and Kabila, along with elections for provincial parliaments.

Bemba's supporters said Monday's fire was started deliberately to undermine his campaign.

However, Bemba has not yet given his verdict on the fire. "We cannot say if it was [arson] or an accident until there has been an inquiry," Moise Musangana, Bemba's spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The two television stations and one radio station were in a four-storey building owned by Bemba. "All the equipment in the stations has been destroyed and nothing can be salvaged," Musangana said.

In August, Kabila's guards also destroyed Bemba's helicopter. Without the means to travel to remote areas and without his media outlets, Musangana said Bemba's campaign "is seriously paralysed".

Observers have said violence could increase as the date for elections nears. "We fear that people are developing the attitude that they are going to war rather than to the second round," Philippe Biyoya, a professor of political sciences and constitutional law at the Protestant University of Congo, said.

He and other analysts had little doubt that Bemba's opponents are targeting his campaign assets and have at least partially succeeded. However, in some ways the attacks may backfire. "If people see Bemba as being victimised, they could come out en masse and vote for him," Biyoya said.


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