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GENEVA The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has condemned the latest eruption of violence against opposition rallies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bachelet expressed deep concern about the flareup of violence in at least three provinces ahead of crucial presidential elections Dec. 23, saying people have the right to freedom of expression and should be able to demonstrate peacefully and safely.

Bachelet's spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, says the high commissioner is calling for a prompt investigation into the violent events that have killed at least five people and injured many more.

"The high commissioner says she is deeply worried about the reports of excessive use of force, including live ammunition, by security forces against opposition rallies. She is also concerned at reports of the use of inflammatory speech by political leaders," Shamdasani said.

The government argues that those who support the opposition often carry out violent acts and the government has to respond, Shamdasani told VOA.

"However," she said, "this is no reason to use live ammunition against a mixed crowd of peaceful protesters and some who may be trying to carry out violent acts. At the end of the day, it is the government's responsibility to ensure that the use of force is very much limited to only situations where there is an imminent threat to the police or to the security forces."

The election will be the first time citizens of the DRC will go to the polls to elect a new leader since Joseph Kabila became president 17 years ago.

Amid the backdrop of rising tensions, a fire broke out Thursday in an electoral commission building in the capital, Kinshasa, burning thousands of voting machines. Opponents accuse backers of Kabila of setting the premises ablaze to postpone the election. A presidential adviser would not comment on what or who might have caused the fire, but said police guarding the warehouse have been arrested.

Source: Voice of America

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