At least one person has been killed and two others injured in the Democratic Republic of Congo as security forces dispersed anti-government protesters, local media and human rights activists said.
Security forces shot live ammunition and tear gas at demonstrators as they tried to march in the capital, Kinshasa, on Sunday to demand that President Joseph Kabila step down.
Organised by the Catholic Church, the marches were meant to start after Sunday mass, but armed forces surrounded the city’s main churches and blocked several roads, Reuters news agency reported.
Jean-Mobert Senga, a Congo researcher for Amnesty International, said security forces fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters in the city’s Saint Augustin and Saint Benoit neighbourhoods.
“The population is fuming in anger in the neighbourhoods,” he wrote on Twitter.
Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said a Congolese activist was “shot dead” outside St Benoit church, “as security forces disperse peaceful protesters yet again”.
Internet and SMS services had been cut since Sunday morning, Sawyer wrote on Twitter, amid “reports of others wounded, arrested across [the] country”.
The Catholic Church has organised a handful of protests since the end of last year, after the Congo failed to hold presidential elections.
Under a 2016 agreement, brokered by the church, between the Congolese government and opposition groups, Kabila agreed to organise presidential, legislative and provincial elections by the end of 2017.
But, at the end of December, the president announced the vote would be postponed until the end of 2018 to account for delays in voter registration.
Election officials have hinted that polls may not be possible even then because of financial and logistical constraints.
The delays have led to increasing frustration among many Congolese citizens.
In January, at least five protesters were killed after security forces opened fire on banned demonstrations in Kinshasa.
Though led by church-affiliated activists, the protests have been supported by Congolese civil society groups, who fear Kabila is trying to “establish a dictatorship” in the country.
Congo “is going through a particularly turbulent time in its history”, the Civil Society Action Collective, a coalition of civil society groups, said in a statement before Sunday’s march.
“The power in place persists by executing a scorched-earth strategy to keep itself in power,” the coalition said.
One of the main organising groups also wrote in a statement before the protests that “our people no longer believe in the political will of our current leaders to ensure a peaceful transition of power,” Reuters reported.