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The Latest: Aid group suspends Ebola work in Congo protests

A cleaner sweeps the floors of a school classroom being prepared as a polling station in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — The Latest on Congo’s presidential election (all times local):

8 p.m.

The International Rescue Committee says it is forced to suspend its work in Congo’s Ebola virus outbreak because of election-related protests, and it accuses the country’s electoral commission of politicizing a serious health crisis.

Aid group vice president Bob Kitchen in a statement says the last-minute decision to bar people in two Ebola-affected cities from voting in Sunday’s presidential election “put a target on the back of Ebola responders.”

This is the sharpest statement yet by health workers in response to days of protests in Beni and Butembo citites. Kitchen says that “it is unacceptable that this disease is being used as a political ploy, putting aid workers in immediate danger.”

Congo’s health ministry, the World Health Organization and Oxfam all suspended crucial Ebola containment work as protesters angry over the election decision vandalized their facilities. The WHO chief has warned that “prolonged insecurity” could lead to a rise in new cases.

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2 p.m.

The archbishop of Kinshasa is urging peace on the eve of Congo’s long-delayed presidential election, saying differences of opinion are no reason to “light the country on fire.”

Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo held a Mass in the capital on Saturday attended by leading opposition candidate Martin Fayulu and a representative of ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. They and sole female candidate Marie-Josee Ifoku held hands during prayer in a spirit of reconciliation.

The archbishop said “unfortunately, some of our compatriots give the impression they want to hold the country hostage to violence.”

He also called the decision to bar some 1 million people from voting because of an Ebola outbreak a “denial of justice.” They will vote in March, long after Congo’s new president is inaugurated. Protests followed the decision.

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