Western envoys in Kinshasa have urged the Senate of the Democratic Republic of Congo to rethink electoral law changes after three days of deadly protest. Rights groups put the toll at 42 killed; the government says 12.
A Congolese electoral law change seen by critics as a bid by President Joseph Kabila to extend his term beyond 2016 ran into foreign objections on Thursday as the nation's Senate prepared to vote on the bill.
Diplomats said the envoys of the United States, France, Britain and former colonial power Belgium had met Senate President Leon Kengo Wa Dondo in Kinshasa on Wednesday.
The news agency Reuters quoted one diplomat as saying they had urged the Senate "either to suspend the modifying law or to remove the incendiary provisions."
The bill, which has already been approved by DR Congo's lower house of parliament, would require a pre-election census.
Years to organize census
Congo's opposition claims that it would take years to organize a census across a nation the size of Western Europe, effectively extending Kabila's rule. He has already governed for 14 years.
On Thursday, Kabila spokesman Lambert Mende denied a claim made on Wednesday by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) that 42 people had died in three days of protest in Kinshasa.
Mende accused the federation of "becoming more and more excessive," saying the government's count was 12 dead, including a police officer and 11 "rioters" shot by private security guards.
The FIDH reported that security forces had been "totally excessive" by firing live ammunition at protesters, and urged that those responsible be prosecuted.
The news agency AFP reported more violence on Thursday, saying police had fired on several hundred demonstrators in the eastern city of Goma, which lies 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) from the capital.
One death in Goma
Witnesses quoted by Reuters said at least one woman was killed when police fired tear gas and live rounds to break up thousands of activists.
On Wednesday, Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Catholic archbishop of Kinshasa, demanded that Kabila's government "stop killing your people" and said the troubled Central African nation should use only "legal and peaceful" measures during debate.
Gunshots were heard at the University of Kinshasa on Wednesday during a confrontation between police and students who called, "Kabila get out!"
In another suburb, youths destroyed a police vehicle and police fired tear gas.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was also "alarmed" by reports that Congolese Internet sites, text messaging services and radio stations had been shut down.
EU call for calm
The EU issued a statement calling for calm and urging that the electoral calendar "fixed by the constitution" be respected.
Kabila, now 43, came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father, President Laurent-Desire Kabila, who as a rebel leader had toppled the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.
Kabila began his second five-year constitutional term in 2006 after a hotly disputed election.
Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, 82, who is in Europe for medical treatment, said from Belgium on Tuesday that Kabila had a "dying regime."
ipj/mkg (Reuters, AFP)