One person was killed and over 20 were injured Sunday as police fired live bullets and tear gas to disperse banned protests calling on DR Congo President Joseph Kabila to stand down.
The church-backed protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo come after months of tension sparked by Kabila’s prolonged rule and a long-delayed election in the vast and chronically unstable country.
In the capital Kinshasa, one man was killed as police opened fire on demonstrators, according to a senior doctor at the city’s St Joseph de Limete hospital.
“Since 7:00 am we have received three injured people from the Catholic march. Two were seriously injured and one died from a bullet wound in the chest,” Francois Kajingulu said.
The brother of the man, who did not give his name, sobbed as he identified the deceased as political activist Rossy Mukendi Tshimanga.
He said a police officer had “shot my brother at close range”.
AFP journalists at the scene saw an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team take the protester’s body to a nearby morgue.
– ‘Zero casualties‘ –
The Catholic church confirmed the death, with spokesman Donatien Nshole saying: “We have registered a death in Kinshasa … as well as several injured.”
Police however denied anyone had been killed at all on protest day, claiming that there had been “zero casualties”.
There were fears the victim’s body could be “disappeared” by the security forces, as has been the case in similar instances in DR Congo, with the authorities eager to contain the anger on the streets.
According to a preliminary toll compiled by state television, 22 protesters across the country were injured, including 13 police officers.
Another eight were arrested, it added.
An AFP journalist in the northeastern city of Kisangani said at least two people suffered bullet injuries as police fired on marchers.
Hundreds began marching after mass at Kisangani cathedral but were dispersed by security forces who fired bullets and tear gas.
The demonstrators fled back into the cathedral singing the national anthem, “Debout Congolais” (Rise Up Congolese).
Three priests were arrested as they led a march in the Saint Pierre de Wagenia district in the east of the city. Officers took them away in a police vehicle, the journalist said.
Police used tear gas to crush protests elsewhere in the sprawling nation, including in Kikwit in the southwest, and Goma and Bukavu in the east.
In DR Congo’s second city Lubumbashi, youths set vehicle tyres on fire and were then dispersed by riot police.
The nationwide protests were called by the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC), an organisation close to the church and an influential social and spiritual movement. But authorities banned the demonstrations.
Kabila was due to stand down from office in December 2016, ending his second elected term, but he has controversially stayed on under laws enabling him to retain power until his successor is elected.
In January he accused the church of interfering in Congolese politics.
Previous protests on New Year’s Eve and January 21 saw a total of 15 people killed by security forces, according to tolls given by organisers and the United Nations. The government said just two people died.
– Internet back –
Internet access was re-established Sunday evening after being cut for 10 hours across the country, with SMS and WhatsApp messaging services disabled as people took to the streets.
Kinshasa police chief General Sylvano Kasongo said Saturday he was under orders to “take measures to ensure the security of the population, and to stop anyone who attempts to disturb public order.”
On Sunday, police spokesman colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu said “the goal to have zero casualties has been respected”.
Hundreds of ruling party supporters had stormed Kinshasa cathedral on Saturday, while police put up barricades, searched vehicles and checked people’s IDs.
On Friday, the European Union, Switzerland and Canada issued a joint statement underscoring the “importance of respecting fundamental rights including the right to demonstrate.”
Political tensions in DR Congo have been mounting since September 2016, when clashes between youths and security forces left dozens of people dead in Kinshasa.
Fears have multiplied that the country, which experienced wars from 1996-97 and from 1998-2003, could explode into violence once more.
The latest timetable to hold elections is for December 23 this year, two years later than scheduled.
But Kabila has refused to state clearly whether he intends to stand again.