Violence in Congo as Thousands Urge President to Step Downby
Opposition parties to march on election body over delayed vote
Ruling party trying to form interim government before polls
Protesters clashed with security forces across the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, throwing rocks and burning tires as opposition parties marched to call on President Joseph Kabila to step down.
Hundreds of armed police, military and presidential guard took up positions around the city center to prevent the protesters from reaching the government district. Agence France-Presse reported that two police officers were killed in clashes with protesters, citing government spokesman Lambert Mende.
The protest started Monday when several thousand opposition supporters headed toward Avenue Lumumba, the main route from the airport to the city center, early Monday. At least 150 military personnel lined the street outside the country’s parliament. Opposition parties, led by the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, planned to march to the national electoral commission to demand that body, known as CENI, calls elections originally scheduled for November.
“We are willing to sacrifice ourselves to win this struggle,” said Josel Munadadi, secretary-general of the UPDS youth league. “The city is paralyzed, we are ready to fight all forms of dictatorship.”
Congo, Africa’s biggest copper producer, has never had a peaceful transfer of leadership. Kabila, in power since 2001, won elections in 2006 and 2011 but is prevented from running for a third term by the constitution. Opposition supporters and security forces have clashed regularly during anti-government rallies in the past two years.
CENI’s president, Corneille Nangaa, on Saturday asked the constitutional court to officially postpone the vote. The ruling party is in the process of negotiating a transitional period with some opposition parties during which Kabila will remain head of state until the elections can be held.
The UDPS and other major opposition parties, including the Movement for the Liberation of Congo and a bloc supporting presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi have boycotted the talks and continue to call for Kabila to step down when his mandate ends on Dec. 19.
The capital was empty of vehicles as protesters gathered in streets leading to the center. Some people threw rocks at the few cars still circulating. Earlier, security forces fired tear gas and bullets to disperse one crowd in the area where the UDPS is headquartered, according to witness and party member John Kankande.