File photo: African News Agency (ANA)

Kinshasa - A teenager was shot dead in DR Congo's central Kasai region on Thursday as party faithful gathered to welcome one of the leading opposition candidates vying to replace President Joseph Kabila in the December 23 elections. 

The bloodshed occurred ahead of a rally by Felix Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) just 10 days before key elections in this vast, poverty-stricken nation. 

At stake is the political stewardship of a mineral-rich country that has never known a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

The shooting comes after a bloody week in which two opposition supporters were shot dead on Tuesday and another three on Wednesday as they gathered to welcome rival opposition candidate Martin Fayulu as he campaigned in the southeast. 

"A young man of 17 who was singing with UDPS party activists was killed this morning by a policeman who fired at him," senior party official Denis Kalombo told AFP.

The incident occurred ahead of a rally in Mbuji-Mayi, the country's third city, which lies in the violence-hit Kasai province -- one of Tshisekedi's main areas of support

Ahead of his arrival in the early afternoon, there was a huge police presence on the streets, Kalombo said. 

"Security forces have been deployed to ensure security, before during and after his visit and to prevent any trouble," regional governor Alphonse Ngoyi Kasanji tweeted. 

- Election warehouse torched -

On Wednesday, clashes erupted in Kalemie, a town in the east on Lake Tanganyika, as Fayulu flew in to campaign, with his aides and a local doctor saying three people had died. 

A day earlier, two people were killed and 43 injured as Fayulu hit the campaign trail in Lubumbashi, DR Congo's second largest city. 

Meanwhile in the capital Kinshasa, a fire tore through a large electoral commission warehouse in the city centre before dawn on Thursday, damaging equipment and voting materials, election officials said. 

Officials said the fire appeared to have been set deliberately, with a police inquiry under way. 

By morning, a thick cloud of black smoke was still visible above the city, AFP correspondents said. 

"Indications suggest the fire had a criminal origin," Interior Minister Henri Mova told reporters, with a government spokesman saying the blaze had started "simultaneously in two places". 

- Voting terminals damaged -

A number of touch-screen voting terminals were damaged in the fire, said Corneille Nangaa, who heads the Independent National Election Commission (CENI). 

The voting machines have been a huge source of anger and protest over the past year, with many in opposition denouncing them as an invitation to fraud, notably Fayulu. 

Tshisekedi, however, has shrugged them off. 

The warehouse lies close to the headquarters of the military and defence establishment, with Tshisekedi wondering how it could have been left unguarded.

"How can such a large warehouse with such important material in it be left alone, without any security and even be set alight?" he told AFP, blaming Kabila's regime.

On December 23, just over 40 million voters will head to the polls to choose a successor to Kabila, who has ruled the country since 2001. 

Although his second and final term ended nearly two years ago, he has remained in power as caretaker leader, provoking a wave of sometimes violent protest. 

Twenty-one candidates are running to replace Kabila, whose hand-picked successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, is one of the front-runners. 

The other two are Fayulu, who is running as the joint candidate for several opposition parties, and Tshisekedi, who has taken over from his father as the veteran face of Congo's mainstream opposition. 

AFP