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Saturday 24 August 2019

At least 26 killed in Congo protests, rights group says

Riot police remove barricades used to block a road during a protest in Kinshasa (AP/John Bompengo)
Riot police remove barricades used to block a road during a protest in Kinshasa (AP/John Bompengo)

Security forces in Congo killed at least 26 demonstrators and arrested scores more amid protests against President Joseph Kabila's hold on power, a rights group said.

The deaths were the first reported since Mr Kabila's mandate ended at midnight on Monday.

Military and police forces were firing live bullets, raising fears that more people have been killed, Human Rights Watch 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.

Protesters burned the headquarters of the ruling party in Kinshasa.

Mr 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 Mr Kabila's "coup d'etat".

In a statement posted on YouTube, he called the president's actions "treason" and appealed to the Congolese people and the international community to no longer recognise Mr Kabila's authority.

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 political impasse has fuelled 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.

After Mr Kabila's mandate ended, people blew whistles and rattled pans as part of a protest meant to symbolise the "end of the match".

The political negotiations over the weekend 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.

His supporters say that charges of hiring mercenaries are politically motivated, as he had been a leading presidential candidate.

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.


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