Just days after authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) suspended elections in certain areas — allegedly due to fears of the Ebola Virus — protesters took to the street to express outrage that their voting day has been postponed until March. On Thursday, the protesters began targeting a medical center for suspected Ebola patients located in Beni, North Kivu, which has been the epicenter of this latest outbreak. The assault turned violent, and at least 24 of the patients, many of which had tested negative for the virus, fled the quarantine according to a report from Reuters.
“The protesters have attacked the Ebola centre in the town. This is serious because the epidemic can spread,” said Beni resident Matthieu Kamble, while speaking to Al Jazeera.
Although the majority of the patients were confirmed negative for the hemorrhagic fever-inducing virus, at least seven had not been tested before they fled. The medical center targeted during the protest is designed for those who may be infected with Ebola, and is usually the last stop before the patient reaches the isolation area, reports Al Jazeera. During the attack, the protesters lit some of the tents on fire, as well as looted furniture from the facility. The unrest was quelled after police arrived, and — according to the BBC — shots were fired in the air.
Other demonstrations are occurring outside of Beni as well, as many people in the regions affected believe the current ruling party in the DRC is using the Ebola outbreak as an excuse to silence opposition voters. Riot police were deployed to Goma after some residents began placing roadblocks around one neighborhood, and eventually used tear gas to clear the demonstrators. Although the DRC government denies any allegations of foul play, the Foreign Ministry in Kinshasa announced that the European Union’s ambassador to the DRC, Bart Ouvry, is being expelled and has just two days to leave the country. Reuters reports that authorities claim the move is in response to the EU’s recent decision to renew sanctions against the DRC, although some experts say the decision is suspect given that the election — which will determine who the country’s new leader will be — is due to begin on Sunday.
“Delaying over the Ebola outbreak is not good enough a reason. They can’t use it to leave us behind while other Congolese vote on Sunday. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Justin Safari, a resident of Beni, while speaking to Al Jazeera.
The current Ebola Virus outbreak is the second largest ever recorded with only the massive outbreak in 2014 throughout West Africa surpassing it. According to the latest information from the World Health Organization (WHO) there are at least 560 patients who are either confirmed or suspected of having the virus, and there have been at least 336 deaths linked to Ebola. By contrast, the 2014 outbreak, which lasted two and a half years, claimed 11,325 lives according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).