By Benoit Nyemba and Ange Kasongo
KINSHASA (Reuters) -Congolese police violently broke up a banned protest in the capital Kinshasa on Wednesday, leaving several people wounded, and one opposition leader said more marches were planned against last week’s vote.
Disputes over the Dec. 20 presidential and legislative elections threaten to further destabilise Democratic Republic of Congo, which is already grappling with a security crisis in eastern areas that has hampered development in the world’s top producer of cobalt and other industrial minerals and metals.
Riot police surrounded the headquarters of Martin Fayulu, one of President Felix Tshisekedi’s main challengers, and used tear gas and force to disperse protesters who had gathered for Wednesday’s opposition march in defiance of a government ban.
Security forces and people in and around the headquarters lobbed rocks at each other, leading to multiple injuries, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.
Fayulu and fellow opposition heavyweight Moise Katumbi condemned what they called the heavy-handedness of the police response.
“A point of no return has just been crossed. This first march will be followed by other actions throughout the country. Cheating, fraud and lying will not pass,” Katumbi said on social media platform X.
His team said separately they did not plan to use legal channels to contest election results, asserting that institutions including the CENI election commission and the Constitutional Court were committed to tipping the vote in Tshisekedi’s favour.
The CENI and Tshisekedi’s government deny the allegations.
Kinshasa police chief Blaise Kilimba Limba defended his forces’ move to close down Wednesday’s unauthorised demonstration. He said two police officers had been injured by stones as well as a number of civilians. Fayulu said 11 protesters had been injured.
Attempts to gather elsewhere in the city were rapidly thwarted amid a heavy security presence. Some protesters tried to block roads with burning tires before police intervened.
In a sign of friction elsewhere, supporters of a local candidate, who appeared to be losing, briefly blocked roads and disrupted traffic with burning tires in the eastern city of Butembo, before dispersing.
The election was derailed by delays delivering voting kits, malfunctioning equipment and disorganised voter lists. Violence also disrupted the poll in some places.
Opposition presidential candidates, who sounded the alarm over the CENI’s preparations for the election, now reject its decision to extend voting at polling stations that failed to open on Dec. 20. They said it was unconstitutional and grounds for a full rerun.
Some independent observers have also said the extension undermines the credibility of the election.
The CENI, which has been gradually releasing provisional results, has acknowledged there were delays but denied that the legitimacy of the election was compromised by extending the vote.
Its latest results update on Wednesday showed Tshisekedi well ahead of his 18 challengers, with more than 77% of around 9.3 million votes counted so far. Full provisional results from the presidential vote are due by Dec. 31.
Businessman Katumbi and former energy executive Fayulu stand in second and third place respectively with almost 16% and 4% of the vote.
The CENI has not said how many of the 44 million registered voters were able to cast their ballot.
(Reporting by Benoit Nyemba and Ange Kasongo in Kinshasa, Yassin Kombi in Butembo; Writing by Sofia Christensen and Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Grant McCool)