(Facebook: Médecins Sans Frontières)
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s health ministry says that 24 patients fled an Ebola treatment centre in Beni when it came under attack by protesters.
- Ebola treatment centres have been repeatedly targeted by protesters and militias
- People have been protesting in the country’s east after being denied the vote
- DR Congo is set to hold its first democratic presidential elections this weekend
Ministry spokesperson Jessica Ilunga said that 17 of the patients had already tested negative for Ebola, while seven had not yet been tested.
Ms Ilunga said that three patients had already returned to the centre while health workers were in contact with 17 others to coordinate their return.
Health officials have addresses and phone numbers for the remaining four, she added.
Protests began in the country’s east, with people unhappy at the electoral commission (CENI)’s decision to deny people the chance to vote in the country’s first democratic presidential elections.
Those places are strongholds of opposition to outgoing President Joseph Kabila and local politicians denounced the move as an effort to swing the vote in favour of his preferred candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
The rationale, according to CENI, is due to the region’s ongoing Ebola outbreak and militia violence.
UN peacekeepers pushed protesters back
Aruna Abedi, the deputy director of Beni’s Ebola isolation centre said that protesters attacked the office of the government agency coordinating the Ebola response before UN peacekeepers pushed them back.
“Protesters tried to force the door of the centre,” Dr Abedi said.
“They were chanting songs hostile to the government and demanding elections. They threw projectiles.”
“There was a group of demonstrators who wanted to enter the CENI office … to demand the withdrawal of the decision,” said Giscard Yere, a Beni resident.
“But the police officers and soldiers who were there fired to disperse the demonstrators.”
Colonel Safari Kazingufu, the police commander in Beni, said his forces had deployed across the city to restore order, including around Ebola treatment centres.
Congo faces disease and violence ahead of the poll
Beni, Butembo and the rural areas around them have been dealing with an Ebola outbreak — now the second-deadliest in history — since August.
It is believed to have killed more than 350 people so far.
But health authorities had repeatedly said that it would not prevent the vote from going ahead, and locals say the outbreak is being used as a pretext to disenfranchise them.
The CENI also cancelled the vote in the western city of Yumbi because of ethnic violence that killed more than 100 people.
The election to replace Mr Kabila, who has governed since replacing his assassinated father in 2001, was meant to take place in 2016 but has been repeatedly delayed.
The election, if staged, would be the Congo’s first democratic transfer of power.
However, the road to the poll has been littered with problems endemic to the former Belgian colony which is still reeling from two protracted civil wars which have claimed millions through fighting, disease and malnutrition.
Successive power vacuums have also stoked militia violence in Congo’s eastern borderlands with Rwanda and Uganda, which threatens the safety of voters in the region.
Mr Shadary is facing two main challengers in a field of 21 candidates: Felix Tshisekedi, the president of Congo’s largest opposition party, and Martin Fayulu, a former Exxon Mobil manager and national lawmaker.
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