Congolese Forces Kill 26 Protesting Against President’s Rule

  • Civilians demonstrate against President Kabila after term ends
  • France says EU relations could change if situation persists

Congolese security forces killed at least 26 people as they clamped down on protests against President Joseph Kabila’s decision to stay on as leader after the end of his second and final term, according to Human Rights Watch.

The deaths happened in Democratic Republic of Congo’s biggest cities, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, and other parts of the country on Tuesday, the New York-based campaign group, which has a network of observers around the country, said on its website. Crowds had formed to demonstrate despite a heavy presence by security forces, it said. Information Minister Lambert Mende didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.

People protest in Kinshasa on Dec. 20.

Photographer: Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

Prime Minister Samy Badibanga, who was appointed last month to lead a transition government until delayed elections are held in April 2018, called for peace when he addressed reporters in Kinshasa, the capital, on Tuesday.

Kabila is facing one of his biggest tests as his opponents accuse him of intentionally delaying elections to allow him to stay in charge of Africa’s biggest producer of copper, cobalt and tin. The president says the decision to put back the vote -- originally slated for this year -- was out of his hands. While Monday marked the last day of his second term, as stipulated by the constitution, the constitutional court has ruled he should stay in office until elections are held.

Read more on Kabila’s business interests

Pope Francis, in his weekly address Wednesday, urged Congo’s political leaders to “listen to the voice of their conscience, to learn to see the cruel suffering of their compatriots, and to keep in their heart the common good.”

France urged the Congolese authorities and security forces to respect human rights and said Kabila shouldn’t run again in future presidential elections.

“We must be clear: if nothing happens, the EU will have to reconsider the level of relations it has with this country,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters in Paris. “We can’t go on like nothing is happening. We really want that this country doesn’t fall into chaos, that it can be spared a civil war.”

The U.S. called on Kabila and the opposition to engage in talks aimed at reaching an “inclusive” political agreement as protests turn deadly, according to a statement by the embassy in Congo. Germany is indefinitely postponing talks on new aid to the country, according to the government’s website.

Earlier in a message posted on YouTube, veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi called for peaceful resistance to what he described as Kabila’s “illegal and illegitimate” rule. Tshisekedi’s remarks came as the president named a new cabinet to run Congo and his security forces blocked off parts of the capital.

MAP: Democratic Republic of Congo

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