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Police arrest 337 over Kinshasa clashes

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11:00 PM

La ville de Kinshasa
©  David Hecht/IRIN

Kinshasa, capital of DRC, where police arrested 337 people over violence that rocked the city on Saturday.

KINSHASA, 13 Nov 2006 (IRIN) - Police in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have arrested 337 people, including 87 children, over violence that rocked the city on Saturday, Interior Minister Denis Kalume said on Monday.

At least four people died when fighting broke out between security forces and supporters of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the challenger to President Joseph Kabila in presidential elections on 29 October. The results are expected on 19 November.

Kalume told IRIN that calm had returned to the city after a meeting between Kabila, Bemba and the head of the United Nations Mission in the DRC, William Swing, aimed at averting more violence.

Kinshasa Governor Liwanga Mata said a precarious calm reigned in the city on Monday after the violent confrontations that led to the deaths of three civilians and a soldier.

Kalume said bandits, locally known as 'shegues', so-called by popular Congolese musician Papa Wemba, were behind Saturday's clashes.

"It was when the police started chasing the vagrants, who were disturbing public order by barricading the roads with flaming tyres in several areas near a private TV station and Bemba's residence that the exchange of fire took place," Kalume said.

"It was around Bemba's residence that people in civilian clothes started firing at the police and everything degenerated from there," Kalume added. He said police used tear gas and fired into the air to disperse the rioters.

Saturday's clashes marked a second attack on Bemba's home, where a coalition supporting his candidature had planned a meeting to review vote counting after the 29 October run-off poll.

Tension has increased in Kinshasa as the date set by the Independent Electoral Commission to release provisional poll results approaches. However, the partial results published by the commission already put Kabila in the lead, with 61 percent of votes against Bemba's 39 percent.

Since the publication of these interim results, Bemba's camp has denounced what it called irregularities and loss of their votes to Kabila.

"What is seen here is systematic cheating," said Eve Bazaiba, the spokeswoman for Bemba's supporters, the Union pour la Nation.

To avoid further confrontation, representatives of the two candidates have been making daily efforts to meet officials of the electoral commission. Security measures have also been taken.

Kalume said the arrests made were in line with decisions taken during meetings between the electoral commission and representatives of the two candidates.

"We will send them for training for the national service so they can become useful to the nation," he said. "We will send them to the Kanyama Kasese site in Katanga Province and to Menkao, a Kinshasa residency where they can farm."

On Friday, representatives of the two candidates signed a deal committing each camp not to incite the army, police or security services to be partisan or to be driven by selfish interest.

The two camps have also agreed to abstain from any attempt to influence the decision of the chain of command of armed forces, police and security services, and to avoid any act aimed at destabilising the security structures.

The rivals have committed themselves to "continue working after the elections, in power and in the opposition, towards a complete integration, reform and reconstruction of a republican armed forces and unified police".

Kabila and Bemba also signed a "goodwill" agreement soon after the run-off poll, urging the eventual loser to accept the poll results and calling for calm and protection of the loser.

[Presidential Election in the Congo]

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