- UN and AU appeal for restraint as court building set alight
- Unrest sparked by vote delay, plans for interim administration
Opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo claimed as many as 50 people died in clashes between police and protesters calling for President Joseph Kabila to step down, as violence continued for a second day in outlying districts of the capital, Kinshasa, on Tuesday. The government put the death toll at 17, including three policemen.
A group of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement urged their supporters to intensify protests, while United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for restraint. The head of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, Smail Chergui, said on his Twitter account he was “gravely concerned” about the situation.
“The Rassemblement regrets the many victims, more than 50 at this stage,” the group said in an e-mailed statement. “The Rassemblement reminds the Congolese population that it will, from this day, intensify and amplify the popular mobilization, day after day.”
Congo, Africa’s biggest copper producer and a source of other key minerals including cobalt and tantalum, has never had a peaceful transition of power. The country had been scheduled to hold presidential elections in November, but they’re being delayed because of a registration process that the opposition says is a deliberate attempt by Kabila to extend his 15-year rule. Kabila, in power since 2001 and who has served two elected terms, is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.
In the densely populated district of Ndjili, approximately 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the center, hundreds of protesters burned down a court house on Tuesday and set vehicles alight, police commander Didier Malu Malu, who provides security at the building, said in an interview there.
The government provides “no jobs” and “no justice,” said Joe Kutela, 26, outside the torched building, when asked why protesters attacked the court. At the nearby St Joseph Hospital, Director of Nursing Djunes Ntadinga said they received six people with bullet wounds.
Closer to the city center, empty roads were strewn with debris and smoldering tires, and security forces patrolled but the situation remained largely calm.
The UN said the offices of at least six opposition-party headquarters were set on fire overnight, including those of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, where spokesman Felix Tshisekedi told reporters on Tuesday that at least five people died.
“We are hoping that we will be able to conduct an investigation so that those responsible are brought to justice and hopefully contribute to putting an end to the cycle of political violence,” Jose Maria Aranaz, head of the UN Joint Human Rights Office in Congo, told reporters.
The protests began on Monday in opposition to ongoing election talks that sought to delay November’s presidential vote and install a transitional government headed by Kabila. In response to the violence, the Catholic Church said Tuesday that it suspended its participation in the negotiations, which had already been boycotted by Congo’s largest opposition groups.
“What has happened is a strong message to say that a large part of the population feels it is not represented in the current dialog,” said Donatien Nshole, the deputy secretary-general of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo. “The bishops were called by the blood of our brothers and sisters that was spilled for the respect of the constitution.”