Protesters, riot police, UN peace army in skirmishes as court is set on fire

KINSHASA - Supporters of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the defeated presidential candidate in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ran riot this week at Kinshasa's supreme court before UN peacekeeping soldiers put a stop to the violence.

KINSHASA - Supporters of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the defeated presidential candidate in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ran riot this week at Kinshasa's supreme court before UN peacekeeping soldiers put a stop to the violence.

During disturbances that erupted on Tuesday while supreme court judges were hearing Bemba's claim of alleged electoral fraud in favour of the incumbent, President Joseph Kabila, part of the court was set ablaze and the premises had to be evacuated.

The unrest began when about 200 Bemba supporters gathered outside the court and their protest escalated into clashes with Congolese riot police and an armoured UN contingent.

At one stage before UN troops restored order, armed men guarding Bemba's residence in the same district of Kinshasa as the supreme court fired on riot police, but no casualties have been reported. Two vehicles were burnt, including a police truck.

The trouble began at 11am when police, using teargas, tried to disperse Bemba supporters at the court. They fled towards the vice-president's residence, followed by police who then came under fire from armed men guarding it.

Riot police fled in turn, opening the way for the demonstrators to break into the court, where they sacked several offices and burnt down an annexe and nearby buildings.

With police and UN troops appearing to be absent, the protesters started a blaze that reached the main building before UN firefighters arrived to help the local fire brigade.

By 1.30pm reinforcements from a UN armoured battalion had put an end to the trouble.

An investigating team from the public prosecutor's office, UN staff and different police units arrived on the scene later. They were due to hand in a report yesterday. - Sapa-AFP

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