Congo Bishops Urge Calm as Elections Near

Violence Broke Out After 1st Round of Presidential Voting

KINSHASA, Congo, OCT. 22, 2006 ( The bishops of Congo exhorted the population to refrain from violence and fear and to participate responsibly for the peaceful and legitimate unfolding of the upcoming presidential elections.

The prelates’ appeal was echoed in a message of the Caritas Internationalis, published in view of the elections Oct. 29.

This is the runoff election to decide who will be the next president. In the first round interim President Joseph Kabila won about 45% of the votes cast, while interim Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba garnered about 20%. Neither won the 50% majority needed to win the election in the first round of voting.

In a statement released earlier this month, the Congolese bishops’ conference “invites the national and international community, while there is still time, to reject evil so that in this way the elections will usher in a better future, because the Congo is in danger.”

The text condemned the violence that broke out in the capital, Kinshasa, where the personal armies of both candidates clashed shortly after the preliminary results of the first round were released, killing at least 30 people.

The bishops insisted that the two candidates “must show their commitment to ridding themselves of armed militias that threaten to take the people as their hostage. Without this proof, it is feared the people will not participate in a ballot that could re-plunge them into violence.”

It is estimated that from 1998 to 2003 more than 4 million people died in Congo, the majority from hunger and sickness, as a result of the civil war.