UN peacekeepers say security forces shot at least seven people during demonstration in Kinshasa against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down
Security forces killed at least seven people in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday during protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down from office, United Nations peacekeepers said.
A police spokesman said three people had been killed in altercations with security forces in the capital, Kinshasa, and that two of the deaths were being investigated.
Catholic churches and activists had called for peaceful demonstrations after Sunday mass, one year after the Catholic church oversaw the signing of an accord that set a new election date to ease tensions in the mineral-rich country.
Kabila, whose mandate ended in December 2016, had agreed to set an election date by the end of 2017. Congo’s election commission says the vote cannot be held until December 2018. Critics accuse Kabila of postponing elections to maintain his grip on power, causing tensions to increase and provoking violence and deadly street demonstrations across the country since the end of 2016.
The government refused permits for the demonstrations on Sunday, and shut down internet and SMS services countrywide ahead of the planned anti-government protests, for what it called security reasons.
More than 160 churches participated in the call. Police responded with teargas in some areas of Kinshasa.
Florence Marchal, spokeswoman for the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, said security forces had shot dead at least seven people in Kinshasa. Another person was killed in a protest in the central city of Kananga, she said, although the cause of death was not yet clear.
UN observers documented at least 123 arrests across the country and a number of serious injuries, Marchal added.
In tweets, the UN human rights office in Congo condemned “the use of force against peaceful demonstrators” and the “violent suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms by security forces”.
Two men were shot dead outside St Alphonse church in the Matete district, said Human Rights Watch’s Central Africa director, Ida Sawyer. Protests had calmed by midday, though many had also been injured and barricades remained erected before New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Congo’s election commission has set new presidential and legislative elections for 23 December 2018, though the opposition has said it would only agree to delay the vote until June 2018. Kabila can remain in power until the next election is held, although he is barred by the constitution from seeking another term in office.