Ebola patients abscond from treatment center in Congo

Protesters shout outside the Ebola response headquarter in Beni during a demonstration against the postponement of elections in the Beni territory and the city of Butembo

Protesters shout outside the Ebola response headquarter in Beni during a demonstration against the postponement of elections in the Beni territory and the city of Butembo

However the cities are strongholds of opposition to outgoing President Joseph Kabila and local politicians claimed the move was an effort to swing the vote in favour of his preferred candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

She Okitundu made the announcement from the foreign ministry, where he earlier called in western diplomats, including European Union head of mission Bart Ouvry, a Belgian national. If successful, it would mark Congo's first democratic transition after decades marked by authoritarian rule, coups and civil war. Some 17 had already tested negative for Ebola, while seven people had not yet been tested, according to a spokeswoman for the country's health ministry.

The government agency coordinating the response to the virus in Beni also was targeted Thursday by protesters who tried to "force the door of the center" before being held back by United Nations peacekeepers, according to Reuters. "But the police officers and soldiers who were there fired to disperse the demonstrators". Three of those from the latter group reportedly have returned to the facility and officials are trying to track down the rest.

Voting has also been called off in Butembo and the surrounding areas.

Mr Abedi said: "Protesters tried to force the door of the centre".

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The Ebola outbreak that has spread around the region since August is believed to have killed more than 350 people to date.

Political activists said they have campaigned actively in the outbreak area without suffering any Ebola infections, children are still going to school, and most civic activities continue as normal, so there is no reason to delay the vote.

Returning to eastern Congo on Thursday to a hero's welcome after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Denis Mukwege, a vocal critic of the government, told a cheering crowd: "The emergency now is to save the electoral process which is deadlocked".

Kabila took office in 2001 at the age of just 29 after succeeding his assassinated father, Laurent-Desire Kabila.

This has triggered violent protests in which security forces killed dozens of people.

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