Tense calm returns to DR Congo after deadly protests
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Calm appeared to have returned to Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday morning in the wake of deadly protests Tuesday against President Joseph Kabila, who has refused to leave office as his mandate ends.
“The situation is quiet in Kinshasa. It has been quiet since yesterday in the afternoon after the clashes,” FRANCE 24’s Thomas Nicolon reporting from Kinshasa said Wednesday morning. “The streets are mostly empty, totally deserted. Kinshasa looks pretty much like a ghost town. The situation is still quite tense, but it is hard to know what is going to happen and how things are going to evolve going forward.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said security forces killed at least 26 demonstrators Tuesday and arrested scores more amid protests against Kabila's hold on power. The deaths were the first reported since Kabila's mandate ended at midnight. Official sources Tuesday said 11 people died.
Military and police forces were firing live bullets, raising fears that more people have been killed, HRW said. Its researcher Ida Sawyer said on Twitter that the killings took place in the capital, Kinshasa, the southern city of Lubumbashi and elsewhere. Residents told the group that Republican Guards were carrying out door-to-door searches and arresting youths.
Official sources said nine people died in the capital and two in Lubumbashi, the country’s second-largest city.
“In Kinshasa, there were nine dead,” government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP. “Six looters”, “a police officer” and two bystander women struck by stray bullets.
The UN's large DR Congo mission, MONUSCO, said Tuesday it was probing reliable reports of dozens of deaths and voiced alarm over the arrests of 113 opposition leaders and civil society activists in just four days.
Protesters burned the headquarters of the ruling party in Kinshasa.
Opposition leader urges peaceful resistance
Kabila, who took office in 2001 after his father's assassination, is constitutionally barred from seeking another term, but a court has ruled that he can remain in power until new elections, which have been delayed indefinitely. They were meant to be in November, but the ruling party says it needs more time - until 2018, at least.
The leader of Congo's largest opposition party, Etienne Tshisekedi, urged peaceful resistance to what he called Kabila's "coup d'état". In a statement posted on YouTube on Tuesday, he called the president's actions "treason" and appealed to the Congolese people and the international community to no longer recognise Kabila's authority.
Tshisekedi calls for peaceful resistance to Kabila in YouTube video
Political talks between the ruling party and opposition, which stalled over the weekend, were expected to resume on Wednesday with mediators from the Catholic Church.
The negotiations failed to reach an agreement on a date for new elections or the release of political prisoners. Both are key demands of the opposition parties, along with the dropping of criminal charges against opposition leader Moise Katumbi, who fled the country as authorities announced plans to try him. Katumbi's supporters say the charges of hiring mercenaries are politically motivated, as he had been a leading presidential candidate.
In what appeared to be an attempt at soothing opposition grievances, Kabila’s administration announced on state TV Monday an expansion of the government by 17 ministerial posts to 65, many of them reserved for opposition members.
The main opposition coalition, which refused to accept the deal enabling Kabila to stay on, is unlikely to be appeased.
Fears of widespread unrest
People inside and outside Congo fear a repeat of the dozens of deaths in September, when the opposition took to the streets after the electoral commission failed to schedule the presidential election.
The political impasse has fueled fears of widespread unrest in the vast Central African nation that has trillions of dollars' worth of natural resources but remains one of the world's poorest and most unstable countries.
In Kinshasa's Matonge neighborhood on Tuesday, people played soccer in the street to block traffic as a form of protest amid the heavy police and military presence.
"Kabila has betrayed our country. He must leave," said Jean-Marcel Tshikuku, a mechanic. "He announced a new government just at the end of his mandate. It's an insult! We don't want him anymore. We don't want negotiations to resume. He must get out, that's all."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)