Ebola patients flee Congo treatment center after protesters ransack facility

EU ambassador expelled from DRC ahead of polls

Dozens of people in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo city of Beni marched, barricaded roads and burned tires on Thursday to protest against the electoral commission's decision to exclude its voters from Sunday's presidential election.

In Beni, protesters have set up blazing street barricades and attacked an Ebola isolation centre, with almost 20 patients fleeing.

Electoral commission CENI said an Ebola outbreak was behind the cancellation of the ballot in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo cities of Beni and Butembo. Most of the patients who fled had tested negative for the virus, a health ministry spokeswoman said.

Opposition candidates call the delay a ploy to hurt their chances in areas where sentiment has turned against the ruling party in recent years.

Despite this, the timetable for the presidential elections is not to be affected, with the next head of state still scheduled to be sworn in on January 18, the commission said.

The reasons given for the latest delay aren't credible, Fayulu said.

Workers in DR Congo on Friday began preparations for long-awaited elections just two days away as a pre-vote protest called by the country's opposition appeared to fail.

Congolese opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu poses for a portrait following an interview with the Associated Press in Kinshasa, Congo, Thursday Dec. 27, 2018. "A large majority supports the opposition", Congo Research Group (CRG), which commissioned the poll on which the survey was based, said in a statement.

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But a chaotic election day could ignite new violence, as was the case after the 2006 and 2011 elections.

On Wednesday, it declared the vote would be postponed again in violence-hit parts of the country.

Voting was postponed in the opposition strongholds of Beni and Butembo in the east, and the city of Yumbi in the west.

The UN and western powers have repeatedly urged the DRC to have peaceful, transparent and free elections - a call echoed on Wednesday by the presidents of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and the neighbouring Republic of Congo.

Congo's health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga, has called this Ebola outbreak the most complex in history with the rebel threat and bouts of community resistance. But the government has refused to accept election monitors from the European Union and US -based Carter Center, which said Kabila's re-election in 2011 was marred by widespread fraud.

Until this week, the Ebola outbreak declared on August 1 had been a challenge but not a barrier to the election. And in a separate report detailing the latest outbreak trends, the World Health Organization said cases continue across a geographically dispersed area, and although Ebola infection numbers continue to decline in Beni, the outbreak is intensifying in Butembo and Katwa, with new clusters popping up elsewhere.

More than 46 million people are registered to vote, the run-up to which was marked by deadly violence.

Health teams in Beni were prevented from carrying out critical field work, including vaccinations, tracing of potential Ebola carriers, and following up on alerts of potential new cases.

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