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US urges its citizens to leave DR Congo immediately as tension escalates

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KINSHASA | US government has urged its citizens in DR Congo to leave the country as soon as they can, as tensions threaten to boil over, with reports of at least four people killed at a polling station on Monday.

The warning by the US Embassy in Kinshasa follows the government’s blockade of internet services in the capital as well as opposition stronghold cities after Sunday’s presidential vote.

Sendo Cleaners

“The government of DR Congo shut down internet services on December 31 in the aftermath of the elections,” the embassy said in the travel advisory.

“Depart the country. Your departure plans should not rely on U.S. government assistance,” it added.

The US embassy in Kinshasa has been updating its citizens with travel advisory almost on regular basis for the last ten days going into the much-delayed presidential vote on Sunday.

In the capital Kinshasa, the internet has not been working since the morning while it is also down in the key eastern cities of Goma and Lubumbashi, which are seen as opposition strongholds.

Internet provider Global said in text messages to customers that the government had ordered the shut down, AFP news agency reports.

Opposition candidate Martin Fayulu’s campaign team accused the government of ordering the shut down to avoid broadcasting his “overwhelming victory” in Sunday’s poll.

Two days before the vote, US embassy “strongly urged” its citizens in DR Congo to immediately depart the country after the government announced the closure of all land and maritime borders, exempting international airports, for the 24-hour period of the election.

Political commentators have warned that the threat of upheaval was great, given organisational hitches and suspicion of Kabila, who had refused to quit in 2016 after his two-term limit expired.

Kabila has repeatedly postponed the presidential election, initially attempting to amend the constitution to give him another shot in office. The attempt was thwarted by the citizens who took to the streets en masse for days until Kabila backed down.

The observers fears came to pass Monday, with reports that four people — including a police officer and an electoral official — were killed Sunday in eastern South Kivu province.

The officer and official were killed along with two civilians during clashes at a polling station in the Walungu area, campaign director Vital Kamerhe told AFP.

He said the violence broke out after the electoral official was accused of trying to rig the vote in favour of Emmanuel Ramazini Shadary, the candidate championed by President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for 17 years.

“An agitated crowd started fighting with police. An officer was killed, which we deeply regret,” said Kamerhe, a former president of the National Assembly who is from South Kivu.

The mob “then attacked the electoral official who died. Two civilians were also killed.”

South Kivu authorities said an investigation had been opened into the incident.

Vote counting on

Counting is under way, but provisional results are not expected until January 6. However, observers have complained of widespread irregularities during the poll.

President Joseph Kabila is stepping down after 17 years in office. He has promised DR Congo’s first orderly transfer of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Kabila is backing his former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is the ruling party’s candidate.

The two main opposition candidates are Fayulu, a former oil executive, and Felix Tshisekedi, the son of the late veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

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