Congo elections get a deadly start

Published July 1, 2006

KINSHASA, Congo - Troops fired into a crowd and killed 12 protesters in retaliation for the death of a soldier Friday while campaigning began for Congo's first multiparty elections in more than four decades.

Human rights worker Christian Malidini said soldiers opened fire after demonstrators in Matadi attacked and killed the soldier. He had no further details, and city officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

The elections will mark the first democratic vote after more than four decades of coups, war and corrupt military rule. The official start of campaigning on Friday coincided with the anniversary of Congo's independence from Belgium in 1960.

Nearly three dozen candidates are vying for the presidency and thousands for Parliament in elections for a government to replace a transitional administration that took over after the country's 1998-2003 civil war.

Aid groups estimate violence since 1998 has left some 4-million Congolese dead, mostly through strife-related disease or hunger.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to extend the mandate of more than 1,100 peacekeepers in the country until September 30. They are among some 17,500 U.N. troops and police there, the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation in the world.