'Police officer and protesters killed' as demonstrations turn violent in DR Congo
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A police officer was killed by stone-throwing protesters in the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a United Nations human rights official said Thursday, as nationwide anti-government demonstrations erupted in violence.
A protester was also shot dead in Goma in the east of the country, said José Maria Aranaz, director of the UN’s Congo-based Joint Human Rights Office. Two others were injured by gunfire, he said.
However, the governor of North Kivu province, Julien Paluku, denied that a police officer had died.
Security forces also fired tear gas at an opposition march in the capital Kinshasa, in the far west of the vast country, where around 5,000 people were protesting.
The clashes came as part of a day of nationwide protests called by opposition leaders against President Joseph Kabila, who is widely suspecting of seeking to remain in office beyond the two terms allowed under the constitution.
Opposition parties and civil society groups called for nationwide demonstrations following a May 11 ruling by Congo’s highest court that would allow the president to remain in power if elections due in November are not held.
While demonstrations in other cities were banned by local authorities, the one in Kinshasa had been given official authorisation.
However, police there said the crowds had deviated from an agreed route.
"In these cases we don't negotiate, we disperse," national police spokesman colonel Pierre Rombaut Mwanamputu told AFP.
Police fired tear gas against stone-throwing protesters and then charged them to break up the demonstration, an AFP journalist at the scene said.
A heavy deployment of riot police was also visible in the streets of the southern mining hub of Lubumbashi, where supporters of opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi have repeatedly clashed with police this month.
In Goma, eastern Congo’s largest city, police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters who burned tyres and blocked streets with large rocks, according to local civic leader Thomas d’Acquin Mwiti, who was present at the demonstration.
“The protesters encountered ferocious resistance from the police, which led to clashes and barricades being set up. Some demonstrators were arrested. I don’t know how many yet.”
He said he had also heard gunfire but could not determine who was shooting. Other witness confirmed that clashes had occurred. Police officials in Goma were not immediately reachable for comment.
Constitutional term limits bar Kabila, in power since 2001, from running for a third elected term. But the government has said the election to choose his successor is likely to be delayed by budgetary and logistical obstacles.
Opposition leaders, however, accuse Kabila of stalling the elections in order to extend his rule, and Western nations including the United States have warned him to stick to the electoral calendar.
Government officials have denied Kabila is seeking to cling to power.
“Kabila is one man. The republic will remain. This is not a monarchy,” said Xavier Mdula, an unemployed middle-aged man who participated in the demonstration in Kinshasa.
Katumbi, who is Kabila's main political rival and who announced this month his plans to run for the presidency, has been accused of hiring foreign mercenaries as part of an alleged plot to overthrow Kabila.
He left the country on May 20, ostensibly to undergo treatment at a South African hospital, the day after he was charged with "threatening the internal and external security of the state" in relation to the mercenary allegations.
The 51-year-old businessman has dismissed the allegations as "grotesque lies" and says the case is politically motivated.
Katumbi was an ally of Kabila's but broke with him in September after the president announced he would carve up DR Congo's provinces, including Katumbi's stronghold of Katanga, into smaller entities.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)