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Anti-Kabila protests turn deadly in DR Congo

January 21, 2018

Protesters have taken to the streets of Kinshasa demanding that President Joseph Kabila step down. Police fired live ammunition and tear gas at demonstrators who marched after church services.

Protesters lie on the road amid tear gas.
Image: Reuters/K. Katombe

At least six people were killed and 49 injured after Congolese security forces opened fire on demonstrators demanding the ouster of long-time President Joseph Kabila in the capital Kinshasa, the UN said Sunday.

Police used both live ammunition and tear gas to scatter anti-government protesters who took to the streets following church services.

Demonstrations were taking place across the country, including Goma and Lubumbashi. They are demanding the ouster of President Josef Kabila who has clung to power for 17 years.

MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, said 94 people were arrested nationwide during the clashes.

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A 16-year-old girl was the first victim. She was fatally shot as she stepped out of a church in the Kitambo section of the capital, according to Jean-Baptise Sondji, a doctor and former minister who is now a government opponent.

"An armored car passed in front of the church. They began firing live bullets, I protected myself," Sondji said by telephone.

"A girl who was at the left side door of the church was hit by a bullet," he said, adding that she was already dead when she was taken by taxi to a hospital.

He said Red Cross members confirmed the girl's death.

Anti-Kabila protesters scatter as police fire tear gas to break-up the crowd.
Anti-Kabila protesters scatter as police fire tear gas in KinshasaImage: Reuters/K. Katombe

The UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO also reported one person killed in the same area, but said that victim was a man.

Tensions were also said to be running high in the major cities of Kisangani, Lubumbashi, Goma, Beni and Mbuji Mayi.

Rising tensions

People have grown increasingly angry with Kabila since he refused to step down when his term expired in December 2016. Demonstrators have repeatedly taken to the streets since then and scores have been killed.

Map of the DR Congo shows the location of the capital, Kinshasa, as well as the cities of Beni, Goma, Lubumbashi and Mbuji Mayi.

The protests have emboldened numerous armed rebel groups in the country's interior. This has sparked fears that the country, rich in mineral resources, could slide back into a vicious civil war that left millions dead in the 1990s, primarily from hunger and disease.

"I marched today for a simple reason: I want to bring up my children in a country that respects human rights," protester Pascal Kabeya, a 40-year-old market trader, said amid a few hundred demonstrators in a Kinshasa suburb.

As has become typical, the government cut internet, email and social media messaging networks in the capital in the run-up to the demonstration, and security forces threw up roadblocks on major roads into the city.

The country's powerful Catholic Church called for demonstrations across the country despite a government ban since September, when anti-Kabila protests turned violent.

The church received support from the head of the Muslim community, with Cheikh Ali Mwinyi M'Kuu urging authorities on Saturday to allow the rally to go forward. 

"If they decide to repress, there will be no peace," he said. "But if they let the march take place, they will respect the constitution and peace will prevail."

amp, bik/jlw (Reuters, AFP, AP)