Congo suspended Sunday elections for months in the Ebola zone


KINSHASA, Congo – The long-delayed elections set for Sunday elections will be postponed for months in certain communities where the deadly Ebola virus outbreak has infected hundreds of people, the state election commission announced Wednesday.

Elections in Beni and Butembo in Kivu Utara and Yumbi provinces in Mai-Ndombe province will be held in March, the commission statement said. That was long after the results of the "definitive" Congo presidential election will be announced on January 15.

The election of Congo has been delayed for more than two years. Opposition parties say they will not accept the postponement of further voting to elect a longtime successor to President Joseph Kabila. Elections have been pushed from December 23 to Sunday after a fire in the capital, Kinshasa, destroyed election material.

Parts of eastern Congo, where the Ebola outbreak has become the second deadliest in history, faces the threat of deadly attacks from rebel groups. Insecurity has hurt efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak, which since its announcement on August 1 has seen 583 cases of the virus, including more than 300 confirmed deaths.

The election commission cited insecurity for the latest delays. While Yumbi does not have an Ebola case, according to the Congo health ministry, the commission said "deadly incidents" on December 14-15 led to massive population movements and destroyed all election material there when its local office was looted. The statement does not say who is to blame.

This new delay will definitely cause further frustration, especially in Beni, where rebel attacks have killed more than 1,500 people in the past four years. While the region has chosen Kabila in the last election, anger at the government has increased over ongoing insecurity.

While holding elections in the Ebola zone has caused complications, authorities say they are preparing for elections by deploying tons of hand sanitizers to be used at polling stations, where people will knock on the touch screen voting machines to vote for candidates. Ebola spreads through the body fluids of infected people.

The authorities also said that people who entered the polling station would be screened because of fever.

More than 52,000 people in the region have received an experimental but promising Ebola vaccine.


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