DRC: Ebola patients flee quarantine amid poll chaos

DRC: Ebola patients flee quarantine amid poll chaos

The opposition coalition behind presidential candidate Martin Fayulu has called for a "ghost town" strike throughout Congo on Friday.

Congo's leader is blaming a deadly Ebola virus outbreak for the last-minute decision to bar an estimated 1 million voters from Sunday's long-delayed presidential election, claiming it would be a "disaster" if someone infects hundreds of people. Some protesters attacked an Ebola treatment center, with a number of patients fleeing.

The EU a year ago sanctioned Shadary, a former interior minister, for obstructing Congo's electoral process and for a crackdown against protesters angry over the long-delayed vote.

Explaining the three exclusions, it said on Wednesday: "Elections lead to important movements of voters toward polling places, thus ... raising the risk of propagation of this disease (Ebola) and providing the conditions for terrorist attacks".

The vote should have been held in 2016 when President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, reached a two-term limit set under the constitution.

"The composition of the electoral commission does not give any advantages to any one component - meaning you have the majority (ruling party), you have the opposition which is represented in the commission, and of course the civil society", he said.

Sanctions were first placed two years ago after a violent crackdown on street protests and repeated delays to the elections.

The announcement by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) blamed militia violence and an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu, and inter-communal clashes in Yumbi.

The European Union (EU) has condemned the Democratic Republic of Congo's decision to expel its ambassador ahead of crucial elections on Sunday.

Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. Pic credit BBC
Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. Pic credit BBC

The EU prolonged the sanctions earlier this month after Congo's foreign minister pleaded with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to lift the sanctions, even for a "probationary period". "They had to be tested a second time before being discharged", said a health ministry spokeswoman.

Their intervention was seen as crucial as DR Congo has never had an orderly transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960, and the opposition fears that the poll will be rigged in favour of Mr Shardary.

Everyone else in the country will get to vote on Sunday, a week after the elections had been due to take place.

Electoral officials have postponed voting in three cities until March, citing insecurity and Ebola concerns.

The disease has killed 356 of the 585 people infected during the nearly six-month outbreak, and one-fifth of the cases have occurred within the past three weeks, according to a weekly update from WHO.

The CENI also cancelled the vote in the western city of Yumbi because of ethnic violence there last week that killed more than 100 people.

That included Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a hardline former interior minister chosen by Kabila to be the candidate for his succession in tomorrow's presidential election.

But on Wednesday, the national election panel announced the vote - also being held at municipal and legislative level - would be postponed in several troubled areas, including parts of North Kivu, until March.

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