Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Protests erupted Thursday in the Democratic Republic of Congo after the country's electoral commission postponed Sunday's presidential and parliamentary polls in three cities.
The electoral commission, called CENI, said that while voting will go on as scheduled Sunday for the rest of the nation, elections in Beni and Butembo in the eastern North Kivu province, and Yumbi in western Bandundu province will take place in March, broadcaster Al Jazeera reported.
The commission pointed to concerns connected with an Ebola outbreak, as well as ethnic violence. More than 320 people have been killed in the latest Ebola outbreak since August, mostly in the eastern portion of the country. In the western region, at least 100 people died in ethnic conflicts last week.
Africanews.com reported protesters in Beni barricaded roads and burned tires to protest the decision. Authorities fired shots into the air in an attempt to disperse the demonstrators.
"There was a group of demonstrators who wanted to enter the CENI office ... to demand the withdrawal of the decision," Beni resident Giscard Yere said. "But the police officers and soldiers who were there fired to disperse the demonstrators."
The DRC government opposition candidate Martin Fayulu charged that the delay was meant to swing the election in favor of former interior minister, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is supported by outgoing president Joseph Kabila.
Kabila is leaving office after serving as president for 18 years. His refusal to leave in 2016 sparked protests in which demonstrators accused him of violating Congo's constitution. He agreed to leave office with this upcoming election.
"The pretext of Ebola is fallacious because there has been campaigning in these areas," Fayulu wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "It's yet another strategy to hijack the truth of the polls."
Even though Beni, Butembo and Yumbi will not hold elections until March, final results for the presidential election will be announced on Jan. 15 and the new president sworn in on Jan. 18. Beni and Butembo are known for their sentiments against Kabila.
DRC elections have been delayed a number of times since 2016, the latest pushing the election back a week to Dec. 30 because of a fire damaging voting materials last week.