Part of the Supreme Court burnt amid gunshots

Part of Congo's Supreme Court was burnt on Tuesday as judges reviewed electoral fraud complaints filed by supporters of presidential contender Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The session was immediately suspended. It is unclear who started the fire, but police fired shots into the air to disperse Bemba supporters demanding to enter the court building.

"We were in the middle of the hearing when we heard shots by the police force who were unable to contain the crowd," Denis Tabiana, a politician at the court, said.

However, Interior Minister Denis Kalume said: "Armed men who infiltrated the demonstrators opened fire on the police and from then everything went haywire."

He said nobody had been reported killed or wounded.

The fire damaged only part of the Supreme Court.

In a communiqué, the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), said that "uncontrolled elements" fired on the police who had moved in to disperse 22 people gathered in front of the court. The shooting lasted 45 minutes, forcing the court to suspend the hearing. A police bus and two other vehicles were also burnt.

MONUC troops evacuated four Supreme Court judges, lawyers for Bemba and the Independent Electoral Commission, as well as officials from Bemba's coalition of political parties - the Union pour la nation.

Bemba and his coalition have rejected the provisional results of the 29 October run-off presidential election which gave the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, 58.05 percent of the vote and Bemba 41.95 percent.

The coalition's lawyer, Delly Sesanga, said on Monday that its members were waiting on the Supreme Court to cancel the election results.

"What we are waiting for is the cancellation of the poll. There were too many irregularities," Sesanga said.

The Carter Center, one of the election observer groups present in DRC, said in a communiqué it believed the provisional results reflected the votes at the ballot box. The results can only be endorsed by the Supreme Court after hearing Bemba's appeals.

Meanwhile, tension remains high in the city as the army has surrounded Bemba's home where most of his bodyguards live.


[Countdown in the Congo]