KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — The Latest on Congo’s presidential election (all times local):
The World Health Organization chief warns that “prolonged insecurity” in Congo could erase the gains made in a deadly Ebola outbreak, as parts of the country protest ahead of Sunday’s presidential election.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus does not mention the election but expresses concern after protests erupted on Thursday and Friday in two Ebola-hit cities that have been barred from voting on Sunday.
Tedros says security has deteriorated and health teams were unable to carry out critical field work. He says the work has reached a “critical point” and insecurity could lead to a rise in new cases.
He says that would be a “tragedy for the local population, who have already suffered too much.”
Residents, opposition leaders, Congo’s Episcopal church and others have urged the electoral commission to reverse its decision barring some 1 million people from Sunday’s vote. Health officials have said precautions were in place to allow voting.
Congo’s national organization of Episcopal churches is criticizing as “unjust” the decision to bar some 1 million people from voting in the presidential election on Sunday because of an Ebola virus outbreak.
The statement calls on Congo’s electoral commission to reconsider its decision that carries “such high risks” and does nothing to help the country emerge from political crisis. Protests have followed the decision, with one Ebola center attacked.
Health officials had said precautions were in place so people in the Ebola outbreak zone could vote. The church statement calls the government’s sudden political turnaround “very grave and with heavy consequences.”
The statement asks why residents in Beni and Butembo cities were OK to vote on the original election date of Dec. 23 but three days later were suddenly ruled out.
The Oxfam aid organization says it is suspending its Ebola outbreak response work in Congo because of violent protests by people barred from voting in Sunday’s presidential election.
The Oxfam statement comes after Congo’s electoral commission delayed voting in the Ebola-affected eastern cities of Beni and Butembo until March. That’s well after Congo’s next president is inaugurated in January.
Acting Oxfam country director Raphael Mbuyi calls the situation “extremely worrying” because any suspension in efforts to contain the deadly Ebola virus has led to a spike in new cases.
Mbuyi adds, however, “it’s not surprising that people who have had their votes taken away at the last minute are frustrated and going to the streets. These people deserve to have their say as well.”
Congo’s health ministry says the uproar over a delayed presidential election in two cities hit by a deadly Ebola outbreak has “badly disrupted” work to contain the virus.
The ministry’s statement says health teams could barely deploy in Beni and Butembo on Thursday and no Ebola vaccinations could be carried out.
Protests erupted in Beni for a second straight day after Congo’s electoral commission announced that voting in the two cities would be delayed until March. That’s well after everyone else votes on Sunday — and after Congo’s next president is inaugurated in January.
The opposition says the votes of an estimated 1 million people therefore will not count.
Congo’s health minister has said health authorities and electoral authorities had worked together on preparing for the election and that precautions had been taken to protect voters.
Hundreds of protesters have marched in the streets of Beni in eastern Congo demanding the right to vote in Sunday’s presidential election along with the rest of the country. The government says voting in the cities of Beni and Butembo is delayed until March because of a deadly Ebola outbreak.
The opposition says the votes of an estimated 1 million people won’t count as Congo plans to inaugurate a new president in January.
Beni’s police chief, Blaise Safari, says 22 people have been arrested in the protests that began on Thursday. He says police are clearing streets barricaded by demonstrators. Gunfire can still be heard after the police and army used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the marchers.
Some protesters carried crosses with the words “RIP Kabila” and saying that departing President Joseph Kabila’s preferred successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary “will never be our president.”
A statement by Beni’s civil society urges residents to turn out en masse on Sunday to vote despite the delay.
Congo’s leader says “there is no further reason” to prevent Sunday’s presidential election after two years of delays, but he blames an Ebola outbreak for the last-minute decision to keep an estimated 1 million voters from the polls.
In an interview with The Associated Press, President Joseph Kabila says it would be a “disaster” if people vote Sunday in two large communities in the Ebola outbreak zone, asserting that “a single person” could infect scores or hundreds of others.
His comments Thursday evening contradict those of his own health officials, who have said precautions had been made in collaboration with electoral officials so people could vote in the outbreak zone.
Voting is delayed in opposition strongholds Beni and Butembo until March, long after the inauguration of Kabila’s successor in January.