|Joseph Kabila's declared victory in last month's presidential election sparked protests and fraud allegations [AFP]
Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been reponsible for the deaths of at least 24 people since President Joseph Kabila's contested re-election on December 9, Human Rights Watch has said.
"At least 24 people were killed by security forces between December 9 and 14, including 20 in Kinshasa, two in [eastern] North Kivu, and two in [central] Kasai Occidental province," HRW said in a statement on Thursday.
|DR Congo's opposition has rejected Kabila's victory in the poll over allegations of fraud [Al Jazeera]
"Human Rights Watch also documented an incident in which local youth in Kinshasa threw rocks at a priest who later died from his injuries," the group said.
Since the election commission issued results on December 9 showing Kabila had won the November 28 presidential vote, "security forces have been firing on small crowds, apparently trying to prevent protests against the result," said
Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at HRW.
The victims include a 21-year-old woman who was shot dead as police fired on crowds of opposition supporters in the capital, according to the group. The woman's eight-year-old niece was also shot in the throat and is undergoing hospital treatment, it said.
HRW said its information came from fieldwork, local human rights activists and witnesses.
Security forces appear to have tried to hide the killings by quickly removing corpses, the HRW report said, while sections of the military, including the presidential guard, were accused of detaining people in military camps in the capital.
"Several sources informed Human Rights Watch that the government had instructed hospitals and morgues not to provide information about the number of dead or any details about individuals with bullet wounds to family members, human rights groups, or United Nations personnel, among others," the group said.
"The UN and Congo's international partners should urgently demand that the government rein in its security forces."
Van Woudenberg said: "These bloody tactics further undermine the electoral process and leave the impression that the government will do whatever it takes to stay in power."
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The human rights watchdog said after interviewing 86 victims and witnesses it had received "dozens of reports of other killings and attacks by security forces which it is seeking to confirm and is continuing its investigations".
The latest death figures follow an earlier report by HRW saying that 18 people had been killed by security forces in the
run up to the polls, claims strongly disputed by the government.
DR Congo's opposition has rejected Kabila's victory in the poll over allegations of fraud, triggering some street protests. The election process has also drawn wide criticism from international and local observers for irregularities.
The country's election commission issued results that gave Kabila 49 per cent of the votes cast while main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi took 32 per cent.
Tshisekedi, 79, is challenging the outcome of the vote which the country's supreme court and election commission said Kabila had won by a large majority.
Kabila was sworn in for another five-year term on Tuesday. There are now fears Tshisekedi's plans to hold his own swearing-in ceremony on Friday could spark further clashes.