Congo capital tense after 26 killed in anti-Kabila protests

KINSHASA: Sporadic gunfire echoed across Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital on Wednesday, a day after a reported 26 people were killed nationwide in protests demanding President Joseph Kabila step down after his election mandate expired.
African and Western leaders fear the political crisis could spiral into broader conflict, risking a repeat of the 1996-2003 wars in the vast, chaotic country that killed millions and drew in the armies of half a dozen neighbouring states.
Protests erupted in the early hours of Tuesday, moments after the expiry of Kabila’s mandate cast the nation of 70 million into the constitutional unknown. Elections to choose a successor were delayed from November this year to mid-2018, with the government citing problems registering millions of voters.
The death toll of 26 was compiled by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said it had yet to provide a final tally.
The director of the United Nations human rights office in the central African country said it had “solid” reports of at least 20 dead civilians in the capital Kinshasa alone. Some Kinshasa residents ventured from their homes on Wednesday morning but the city’s normally hectic traffic had subsided to a trickle and public transport was limited.
Demonstrations have been outlawed in Kinshasa and some other cities, with scores of people arrested, witnesses say. Authorities arrested about a dozen people for sitting in front of the office of the governor of North Kivu province in the city of Goma, said Serge Sivya, a member of the activist group LUCHA that was targeted.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said that nine people were killed, including a police officer, on Tuesday. He said all of the civilians killed had been looting.
Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s biggest miner of copper and metals used in gadgets such as cobalt, has not known a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. The main opposition bloc gave mixed signals about whether it would return on Wednesday to talks mediated by Congo’s Roman Catholic bishops. The church has assumed the responsibility of trying to prevent the crisis spinning out of control by taking on a mediating role.
“Those of you with political responsibility, listen to the voice of your own conscience, recognise the cruel suffering of your people and take to heart the common good,” Pope Francis told his weekly audience on Wednesday, addressing Congo leaders.
“I appeal wholeheartedly and once again that all the people of Congo, in this delicate moment of their history, should be instruments of reconciliation and peace.”
— Reuters