A fire broke out in an electoral commission building in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, officials said, 10 days before presidential elections that have been foreshadowed by violence.
The blaze destroyed thousands of voting machines and ballot boxes that were due to be used in the election, a presidential adviser said.
Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi said 70 percent of the equipment due to be used for voting in Kinshasa, the country’s capital, was destroyed in the fire he said was started by “criminals”.
“The enemies of democracy have stepped it up a gear,” he said.
Kikaya said that the police guarding the warehouse had been arrested and that preparations for the vote, which could mark the country’s first peaceful transfer of power, would go ahead as voting machines from elsewhere in the country would be recalled to be used in Kinshasa.
Congo’s first use of voting machines on December 23, a rarity in Africa, has caused concerns among the opposition, diplomats and experts about possible manipulation in favour of President Joseph Kabila’s preferred successor. Kabila is stepping aside after taking power in 2001.
The fire broke out around 2am in a building where election materials were being kept, the head of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) said.
A thick cloud of black smoke was still visible above the city by early morning, the AFP news agency reported.
The blaze came after three people were killed on Wednesday in clashes with police on the sidelines of an opposition rally in eastern DRC.
Clashes erupted in Kalemie, a town on Lake Tanganyika, as opposition candidate Martin Fayulu was campaigning there.
Two witnesses said live rounds were fired after the opposition candidate arrived and headed to the rally venue.
Fayulu blamed the violence on police – as well as on “armed youths on drugs”, who, he said, were “dressed in PPRD clothing,” a reference to the country’s ruling party.
On Tuesday, two of Fayulu’s supporters were killed and 43 hurt in clashes at a rally in Lubumbashi, the DRC’s second-largest city.
Fayulu, 62, a little-known legislator and former oil executive, has made a late surge after being named the joint candidate for several opposition parties.
The DRC is in the throes of a major campaign in advance of the December 23 election to choose a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the vast central African country since 2001.
The nation has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.