Security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have shot dead two people during anti-government demonstrations in the capital, Kinshasa, according to a rights group.
Another man was reportedly shot dead in the central city of Kananga by soldiers who opened fire on worshippers gathered for what church leaders said would be a peaceful protest, according to AFP news agency.
Catholic church activists had called for a “peaceful march” after Sunday mass, demanding that President Joseph Kabila step down.
There is growing anger over what some see as Kabila’s refusal to relinquish power after his second full term ended in December 2016.
In Kinshasa, the two men were killed outside St. Alphonse church in Matete district as security forces dispersed peaceful protesters, according to Ida Sawyer, the Central Africa director of Human Rights Watch.
#RDC: Deux hommes tués par balle devant l’église Sainte Alphonse à Matete à Kinshasa pendant que forces de sécurité dispersent manifestants pacifiques, exigeant départ de Pres Kabila. Fort déploiement des militaires à travers la capitale; accès à l’internet et SMS coupé @hrw_fr pic.twitter.com/6W0BIVhZE1
— Ida Sawyer (@ida_sawyer) December 31, 2017
In Kananga, meanwhile, an AFP reporter at a demonstration saw a man shot in the chest by security forces.
Congo authorities have largely maintained a ban on demonstrations in the country, and the governor of the capital, Kinshasa, refused to authorise Sunday’s rally.
“The city does not have sufficient numbers of police officers to supervise this march,” Governor Andre Kimbuta said on Saturday. “Therefore, I do not recognise the authorisation requested.”
His comments came as Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundji issued a letter instructing operators to suspend their services at 18:00 local time (17:00 GMT) until further notice, citing “state security” reasons.
Earlier on Sunday, there were social media reports of increased security and identity checks for worshippers entering churches for weekly mass.
Some also posted about access to churches being blocked in certain neighbourhoods of Kinshasa before the demonstration.
Kinshasa is under siege today. Snipers, presidential guards and other M23 are scrutinizing every worshipper going to church this morning.
No internet no sms services.
Welcome to Pyongyang of Africa. @nikkihaley @IntlCrimCourt@USEmbKinshasa @UEenRDC @BartOuvry #2018SansKabila
— Leja Litho (@LithoLeja) December 31, 2017
It's fact! Tanks and other armored vehicles and armed soldiers are deployed at all strategic churches in #Kinshasa and all night they firing in the air to scare off people who are going to church in the morning #DRC #RDC
— Mukanda #RDC🇨🇩 (@muktech) December 31, 2017
Tensions have been high in the Congo over the past year. Anti-Kabila protests have met with a heavy police response and often turned violent.
A presidential election was meant to take place in November 2016, but officials said the vote was postponed because of deadly clashes in the Kasai region and logistical hurdles.
Kabila, who took office after his father’s assassination in 2001, has been in power for 16 years. According to the constitution, he cannot seek a third term.
Fresh elections are now slated for December 23, 2018.