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Last Updated: Friday, 14 January, 2005, 15:44 GMT
Strike over DR Congo poll delay
Kinshasa market
Kinshasa's main market was deserted (archive picture)
A strike has brought the Democratic Republic of Congo capital, Kinshasa, to a standstill, with shops closed and bus drivers not working.

The strike was called to commemorate the deaths of four people killed in protests at hints that elections due in June might be postponed.

Pamphlets have been circulated, calling the dead "martyrs of democracy".

A 2002 deal to end five years of war set June as the deadline for elections, while allowing for limited delays.

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However, elections chief Apollinaire Malu Malu last week indicated the poll will probably take place in October, before heavy rains make parts of the country inaccessible.

Free transport

But the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in Kinshasa says that Congolese, who have not elected their leader since independence in 1960, do not want any delay.

He says that the strike is reminiscent of attempts by veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi to put pressure on former ruler Mobutu Sese Seko to introduce democratic reforms.

Like in the old days, the government provided free transport to the population in an attempt to break the protest but it has not worked, our correspondent says.

Mr Tshisekedi's party denies calling the strike but those trying to enforce the strike called on people to vote for him.

A five-year civil war in the huge country left nearly three million people dead from hunger and disease.

The war is supposed to have ended in 2002 but fighting has persisted in the east, involving soldiers who were once rebels backed by Rwanda.

Under the peace deal signed by all the main factions at the end of the war, a power-sharing government was tasked with organising elections.

However it does allow for two delays of up to six months each, if approved by parliament.

Logistical problems

In a New Year's Eve address, President Joseph Kabila said he was determined to hold the election this year.

"Only credible elections will bring about political stability in our country," he said.

The UN has expressed concerns about the logistics of holding an election in such a large country which lacks basic infrastructure, such as roads and railways.

According to the UN's humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, about 1,000 people are dying every day in DR Congo - many from disease and malnutrition.


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