Kinshasa simmers in anger after deaths of protesters

There is public outrage against deadly police action against anti-government protests in DR Congo.

     Demonstrations were held in towns and cities across the DRC, including the eastern cities Bukavu and Goma [EPA]
    Demonstrations were held in towns and cities across the DRC, including the eastern cities Bukavu and Goma [EPA]

    Relative calm seems to have returned to the streets of Democratic Republic of Congo, but there is simmering anger and grief among the people after anti-government protests were met with deadly police force.

    Human Rights Watch said in a report on Saturday that at least 40 people were killed in nearly three days of protests against President Joseph Kabila's move to extend his time in office. The rights body accused the security forces of using excessive force and then trying to remove evidence. The government however, put the death the toll at 12.

    In the capital, Kinshasa, the bedrock of the anti-government protests, shops are reopening and people are returning to their normal lives.

    But police and government officials in Kinshasa say their officers had to confront hundreds of rowdy protesters and looters. More than 300 people have been arrested for public disorder. Lambert Mende, a government spokesman, said those killed were looters.

    Colonel Mwana Mputu, spokesman for Congolese National Police (PNC), also denied that police opened live fire.

    "The police are not trained to shoot bullets at protesters. We know that there are slip-ups and the police is in the process of investigating the allegations."

    On Friday, senators rejected one of the proposed changes to an electoral law that would have effectively delayed next year's election and given Kabila extra years in office beyond 2016, when his term ends.

    According to the proposed change, elections would have been postponed until a 'natonal consensus' would have been reached. Opposition leaders and activists are relieved the bill was overturned by the National Assembly, but remain skeptical.

    "The Government’s objective is a strategy to avoid the constitutional limits to the time of the Presidential mandate. This is the core of the debate, and that is what we must defeat," Djoli Jacques, opposition senator, told Al Jazeera.

    Death toll 

    The decision to overturn the bill came after days of clashes between police and protesters, who don't want Kabila's 14-year-rule extended. Demonstrations were held in towns and cities across the DRC, including the eastern cities of Bukavu and Goma.

    Authorities responded by cutting off the internet and blocking mobile text messaging, while security forces came out in full force in an attempt to quell the rising dissent. According to activists and opposition leaders, police and Presidential Republican Guard soldiers fired live rounds and tear gas into the crowds prompting wide-spread panic and chaos.

    The powers took my treasure from me, it was he who comforted me when I was worried, now he's gone.

    Luc Madioko

    According to the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), the death toll was closer to 42, while HRW put it at 40, including one police officer.

    HRW said in a statement that it has confirmed 36 dead in protests in the capital, 21 of whom were fatally shot by security forces, and four dead in the eastern city of Goma.

    "Congolese security forces have fired into crowds of demonstrators with deadly results," Ida Sawyer, a senior researcher at HRW said in the statement.

    Families of the victims are demanding answers.

    Clarisse Tshimanga from Kinshasa lost her 21-year-old son Elka in the protests on Tuesday. She told Al Jazeera that her son was shot dead by the Congolese security forces. She said that her son's body was abandoned by protesters, and was found on the street.

    Another man living in the commune of Matete in Kinshasa told Al Jazeera that he lost his 17-year-old nephew who wasn't even at the protests. He was hit by a stray bullet while watching the protests from inside their house.

    Luc Madioko alleges that once the security forces got word of the death, they tried to confiscate the body. Only with some insistence was his body handed back.

    The HRW said they documented a number of occasions in which security forces took away bodies of those shot "in an apparent attempt to remove evidence of the killings".

    Madicko wants compensation and an official mourning declared by the government for their actions.

    "The powers took my treasure from me, it was he who comforted me when I was worried, now he's gone," Madioko told Al Jazeera.

    The leader of the Catholic Church denounced the police actions and urged the government to "stop killing your people".

    "Certain political figures, along with law enforcement agencies, are sowing despair and creating insecurity," Archbishop Laurent Monswengo said in a statement on Thursday.

    The Congolese government has routinely been accused of stifling dissent, arresting opposition activists and using excessive force on protesters. Kabila, now 43, came to power in 2001, after the assassination of this father Laurent Kabila. In 2011, he won a re-election that was widely believed to have been rigged.

    Opposition leaders and civil society have called for another set of protests against the possible attempts by Kabila's administration to push through electoral changes.

    "Though the electoral project, the Congolese government seeks to keep President Joseph Kabila in power beyond December 19, 2016. [It is] an idea that is not possible.

    "We will continue with protests until the withdrawal of the project by the government," Joseph Olenga N'koy, a Congolese politician said.

    Additional reporting by Steve Wembi in Kinshasa.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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