Police fired warning shots on Friday to disperse a crowd gathered in front of Kinshasa cathedral after a mass by Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, a prominent critic of Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila.
Armed officers arrived at the gates of the cathedral as worshippers were leaving a service to commemorate the victims of a crackdown on New Year's Eve marches that demanded Kabila’s removal.
FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Kinshasa, Thomas Nicolon, said police fired tear gas some 30 minutes after the mass to disperse the crowd. Officers then fired at least three warning shots, he added.
The mass, conducted in a packed cathedral, saw the congregation applaud and cheer Catholic leaders as they urged Kabila to uphold a 2016 church-brokered deal, which should have led to the president standing down.
“The bishop said the men who died [during the New Year’s Eve rallies] would be considered martyrs of democracy from now on,” said Nicolon.
Kabila has been in power since 2001, at the helm of a regime widely criticised for corruption, repression and incompetence.
His constitutional term in office expired in December 2016, but he stayed on – a move that stoked a bloody spiral of violence.
Under an agreement brokered by the church, he was allowed to stay in office provided new elections were held in 2017.
After months of silence, the authorities said the vote would be held in December 2018 – a postponement that has angered Western nations, but one that they have reluctantly accepted.
Friday's service was attended by envoys from numerous western nations, with the ambassadors of Belgium, Britain, Canada, France and the Netherlands and a representative from the United States in the front row.
An envoy from the Vatican's mission was in the second row.
The Catholic church, an institution that enjoys broad credibility in the DRC, has emerged as a lightning rod for opposition to Kabila's efforts to stay in power with no mandate
“The Church is what people really listen to in the DRC,” said Nicolon. “And the government is worried about what it might organise next.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2018-01-12