POSTED: 12:07 p.m. EST, November 21, 2006 , on CNN.com
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo (AP) -- Gunfire and street fights erupted outside Congo's supreme court and a blaze swept through the building Tuesday as hearings began over fraud allegations in a presidential election meant to bring lasting peace to the Central African giant.
Ex-rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba has launched a legal challenge of the results that showed him losing to President Joseph Kabila in a runoff that was designed to end the wars, coups d'etat and autocratic rule that has hobbled mineral-rich Congo since independence in 1960. Some 17,500 U.N. peacekeepers are overseeing the transition.
The latest election-related civil unrest in the capital, Kinshasa, came as dozens of Bemba supporters massed outside the court building as proceedings on his motion got under way. Fights broke out in the angry crowd.
Sporadic gunfire was heard for about 45 minutes as U.N. peacekeepers sped to the scene in armored vehicles, then fired in the air to disperse the crowd. Cars were set ablaze, and police sirens wailed.
Officials said gunmen in the crowd had fired on security forces, but no injuries were immediately reported.
"Armed men were mixed in with the civilians and shot at the police," Interior Minister Denis Kalume said.
Several offices in the two-story court building were on fire, along with furniture and documents. U.N. soldiers evacuated the building and firefighters worked to contain the flames.
A spokesman for Bemba's party said it had no role in the violence. [...]