Catholic leaders urge boycott of Congo poll

CATHOLIC leaders in Congo's capital voted yesterday to urge an election boycott unless fraud claims are addressed, raising concerns over next week's first multi-party polls in 40 years.

Read to packed churches, a statement from the Kinshasa's Catholic hierarchy said confusion over the number of registered voters and the high number of spare printed ballots confirmed attempts to rig the country's 30 July presidential and parliamentary vote.

"The members of the Episcopal Council invite the people, if these irregularities are not corrected, to abstain from the elections," Father Leon de Saint Moulin told 800 worshippers in Saint Joseph's church, to a burst of applause.

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The former Belgian colony's influential Catholic bishops said on Friday that all necessary conditions did not exist to hold fair elections and said the Church would not recognise their validity unless this was addressed.

Congo's electoral commission, which is organising the landmark vote with UN support, has said it will go ahead.

Half of Congo's 60 million people are Catholics, and many parishioners leaving St Joseph's backed the Church's position, after street protests by candidates complaining of irregularities by President Joseph Kabila and his backers.

"Everything is positioned for Kabila to win. We already know the result, so it is pointless," Pierre-Celestin Mulumba-Lobo, 39, a state employee, said. "We Catholics are going to abstain."