KINSHASA (Reuters) - Police in Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday broke up a rally by one of President Joseph Kabila’s main political rivals, a move that underscored rising tensions two years ahead of presidential elections.
Opposition leader Vital Kamerhe, once a close ally of Kabila‘s, said security forces fired bullets at his supporters in the eastern town of Bukavu. The provincial governor denied live rounds were used and said crowds had been hostile.
By 2016, when elections are due, Kabila will have completed two elected terms in office and is barred by the constitution from standing again.
Some opposition groups accuse Kabila, however, of wanting to change the constitution and seek a third term in the mineral-rich country.
“I think President Kabila is scared of allowing a show of force against his presidency to take place,” Kamerhe told Reuters by telephone after the incident.
Kamerhe is a former speaker of the National Assembly and minister. He was a key figure in Kabila’s 2006 election win, leading campaigning in the east, where he comes from.
But he fell out with Kabila in 2010 after the president allowed Rwandan troops to enter the country to hunt Rwandan Hutu rebels in eastern Congo. He set up a new party called the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) and challenged Kabila in the 2011 elections, coming third.
Kamerhe said authorities had told him to hold his meeting in Bukavu’s stadium but it was then booked for a sports match. Frustrated supporters gathered in town where security forces opened fire, he said.
Kamerhe said he had seen one of his bodyguards shot in the head and several other people were injured. There were reports of one woman killed but it was not possible to confirm that.
Marcellin Cishambo, governor of South Kivu province, said police were not armed with lethal weapons and that Kamerhe’s supporters instigated the clashes by throwing stones and trying to force their way into the town’s main square.
“The police responded with tear gas,” he said.
Kabila’s position was boosted last year when the army defeated the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo, with the backing of a U.N. Intervention Brigade. But he still must put down a myriad of other rebel groups and faces criticism of failing to tackle corruption and clamping down on human rights.
Kamerhe has twice been prevented from traveling to eastern Congo in recent weeks before finally reaching the town of Goma last week.
Reporting By Peter Jones in Kinshasa and Kenny Katombe; in Goma; Editing by David Lewis