Congo’s Senate Rules Out Census Before Vote After Protests

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The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Senate bowed to protests that left 40 people dead and abandoned plans for a revised electoral law to require that a census be held before elections next year.

Opposition politicians had warned that linking the census to the vote would delay the ballot and illegally prolong President Joseph Kabila’s mandate, which ends in 2016. Drivers in the capital, Kinshasa, honked horns and people cheered when the vote on the law was announced Friday on state radio. Many businesses reopened after four days of tension in the city of about 9.5 million people.

“We’ve responded to the street,” Senate President Leon Kengo wa Dondo said after the vote. “We’ve discarded the census and identification so that we can move towards good elections in peace and so we can respect the constitutional timetable and our laws.”

Kabila, who came to power after his father Laurent was killed in 2001, was first elected in 2006 and again in a disputed election in 2011. The constitution bars him from running for a third term.

Protests against the law erupted on Jan. 19 in the capital, Kinshasa, and other cities and towns including Goma, capital of the mineral-rich North Kivu province in eastern Congo. The government suspended Internet and mobile-phone text-message services to try and curb the protests.

Banks Closed

Most banks were closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Michel Losembe, President of the Congolese Banking Association said by phone in Kinshasa. He estimated that the industry lost as much as much as $6 million in revenue during that time.

“But estimating the losses of customers is impossible,” Losembe said. A government ban on Internet services during the protests “suspended all international transactions. Nothing was working. You need the Internet,” he said.

Bank officials plan to meet this afternoon to discuss emergency measures in case of a future Internet cutoff, Losembe said.

“We’ll discuss putting in place an independent telecommunications network to avoid depending on public networks and these types of measures,” he said.

More than 40 people have died since the protests began, according to Congolese human rights groups, including the Kinshasa-based League of Electors.

Goma Deaths

Four more people were killed Thursday in Goma during protests, bringing the total dead in four days to at least 41, Human Rights Watch said today on its Twitter account. The New York-based group says at least 21 of the deaths were caused by gunshots from the police or presidential guard in Kinshasa.

Congolese Media Minister Lambert Mende said the government tally is now 14 dead, most of whom were looting shops and killed by security guards. Mende said two died in Goma.

“The protesters were killed by bullets fired by both police” and United Nations Mission in Congo, or Monusco, peacekeepers, Mende said.

“We cannot confirm the deaths in Goma,” Monusco military spokesman Lt. Col. Felix Prosper Basse said by phone from Goma. A South African contingent fired two warning shots into the air when it was blocked by protesters in the city center, Basse said. Monusco is now investigating “rumors” that one woman was wounded and a man died, he said.

Earlier Friday, opposition leaders threatened to organize mass protests Jan. 26 if the Senate passed the law. In a statement on its website, the main opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress called for all Congolese to take to the streets “until the fall of Joseph Kabila.”

The UDPS’s leader is Etienne Tshisekedi, who finished second to Kabila in 2011’s disputed elections.

The Senate’s version of the law will go to a parliamentary committee made up of members of both houses before it’s sent to Kabila to be signed into law.