DRC: Ebola patients flee quarantine amid poll chaos


Opposition supporters accused the government of attempting to disenfranchise them, and have vowed to continue with protests to force the electoral commission to reverse its decision.

The President, Joseph Kabila, insists that the DRC electoral law provides for the postponement which will bar more than one million people from casting their ballots for now.

But "yesterday our teams in Beni were unable to carry out critical field work, including vaccinations, contact tracing, and following up on alerts of potential new cases", he said.

Twenty-four patients absconded in the eastern city of Beni yesterday while tyres were set on fire in nearby streets and protesters clashed with riot police, who fired live rounds and tear gas.

That would also affect the response to the ongoing Ebola virus outbreak - the second-deadliest history - which is believed to have killed more than 350 people this year.

The statement calls on Congo's electoral commission to reconsider its decision that carries "such high risks" and does nothing to help the country emerge from political crisis.

Those included providing tonnes of hand sanitiser (Ebola is spread via infected bodily fluids) and the screening of all voters entering polling stations.

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Voting is delayed in opposition strongholds Beni and Butembo until March, long after the inauguration of Kabila's successor in January. School, church and other activities have continued in Beni and Butembo despite the Ebola outbreak.

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He dismissed opposition allegations that campaigns had faced restrictions, including blocked flights and supporters assaulted.

Opposition candidate Martin Fayulu also claims that he was prevented from visiting three cities, Kindu, Kolwezi and Kinshasa, during the campaign.

Congo's president also sounded defiant in the face of worldwide pressure.

Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu gave the European Union 48 hours to withdraw its representative - retaliation for sanctions against Shadary and 13 other officials accused of cracking down on dissent.

The EU this month prolonged the asset freeze and travel ban against Shadary, and more than a dozen other people, days after Congo Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu pleaded with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to lift the sanctions, even for a "probationary period".

An EU spokesperson on Friday called Congo's order "completely unjustified", adding that "on the eve of very challenging elections" such a decision was counterproductive.

If the elections are "free and fair", an opposition candidate will nearly certainly win, according to Jason Stearns of the Congo Research Group, based at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.

Maliro reported from Beni.

"This case, highlights the continued high risk of continued spread of the outbreak and the need to strengthen all aspects of the response in Ituri, North Kivu and surrounding provinces and countries", the World Health Organization said. Associated Press writer Mathilde Boussion in Kinshasa and video journalist Mark Carlson in Brussels contributed.