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Campaigning begins for DRC elections

media (CC) Nick Hogboog

Rights groups accused candidates of creating a “climate of fear” in the Democratic Republic of Congo as campaigning got under way Friday for presidential and legislative elections.

Violence has marred the build-up to the vote, and local and international rights groups joined together Thursday to send an open letter to presidential candidates calling for calm and an end to “hate speech” ahead of the November 28 vote.

“Since March, our organisations have documented dozens of instances across the country of apparent ethnic hate speech, ethnic slurs and incitement to violence by political candidates,” the letter said.

“In some cases, we have documented candidates or their supporters inciting gangs, youth, the unemployed or members of armed groups to use violence and intimidation against their opponents.”

President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country since the assassination of his father Laurent in 2001, has been bullish about his chances of returning to power in comments to journalists.

His aides say he will tour all 11 of the provinces making up the vast country four times the size of France, where 32 million people are eligible to vote.

But Kabila also promised he would stand aside in the event of defeat.

His main foe, veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, will early next week start his campaign in the troubled east of the country, still prone to violence after wars that devastated the DR Congo between 1996 and 2003.

There are 11 candidates for the presidency and nearly 19,000 candidates are in the running for the 500 parliamentary seats.

The electoral commission, helped by MONUSCO, the UN stabilisation mission in the country, will have the task of distributing 186,000 voting boxes and 64 million voting cards to 62,000 voting stations.

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