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Death toll rises following protests in DR Congo

Ole Tangen Jr. (Reuters, AP)
September 20, 2016

Government sources say that 14 civilians and three policemen were killed during anti-Kabila protests in Kinshasa Monday. At least two bodies were found Tuesday morning in the burned-out office of a main opposition party.

Kongo Kinshasa - Demonstrierende vor Brennendem Auto
Image: Getty Images/AFP/E. Soteras

The charred remains of at least two people were visible on Tuesday morning inside the headquarters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), one of the main opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The office was set on fire overnight following a day of violent protests against President Joseph Kabila, a witness said.

On Monday, Interior Minister Evariste Boshab reported that "14 civilians involved in looting" and three police officers were killed and one of the police officers was "burned alive." Human Rights Watch is reporting that 37 people were killed by security forces.

A coalition of opposition groups put the number of dead at more than 50. "The coalition deplores the number of victims, more than 50 dead at this point, victims of the firing of real bullets by the police and the republican guard," the group said in a statement.

News videos from the scene show protestors clashing with security forces and at least one protestor being carried away after gun shots are heard. The heavy clashes erupted in the capital ahead of a planned mass opposition rally.

The protesters were marching against President Joseph Kabila's perceived bid to extend his mandate. There has been growing local and international pressure on Kabila to step down when his term legally ends in December. Opposition supporters have accused the sitting president of wanting to extend his rule by not holding elections originally scheduled for November as required by the constitution. His supporters deny this charge.

Georges Kapiamba, director of the local NGO - Congolese Association for Access to Justice - said that demonstrations also took place in other parts of the country, including Goma, Bukavu, and Beni. Dozens of people died in similar protests against Kabila last year.

"I have seen offices of President Kabila's party as well as offices of other political parties allied to the president's coalition burnt down," said Patrice Chitera, DW's correspondent in Kinshasa.

Sanctions considered

European nations will discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions on the Democratic Republic of Congo, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Monday in New York where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly.

"It's a question we will discuss [among] Europeans, but the situation is extremely worrying and very dangerous," said Ayrault.

A senior US State Department official said last week that the United States would consider additional targeted sanctions against individuals who seek to undermine Congo's democratic institutions and the election process.

Kongo Kinshasa - Demonstrierende vor zerstörter Wahlplakatwerbung
The constitution bars President Kabila from running for a third termImage: Getty Images/AFP/E. Soteras

"We're ready to consider targeted sanctions under those circumstances. It is something we're exploring and looking at," the official said.

According to the State Department official, Washington made it clear to Congo's leaders that the election process had to be inclusive and that they had to abide by the constitution and agreements among political parties.

Kabila to stay?

Phil Clark, a political scientist at SOAS University of London, does not see a circumstance whereby President Kabila will step down or move to schedule elections in the country in the coming months although the constitution bars him from running for a third term.

"It is looking increasingly unlikely that a new leader will take control of the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Clark. "All of Kabila's moves over the past few months have suggested that he is doing everything he can to remain in power."

Instead, Clark thinks that Kabila will continue to crack down on the opposition and move to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third term, which could lead to more violence.

Joseph Kabila took over as president of the DRC after his father was killed by one of his bodyguards in 2001. His father, Laurent Kabila, became president of the DRC after overthrowing Mobuto Sese Seko in 1997. The DRC has never had a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

"There is a real concern in the Congo that this situation could continue to get drastically out of hand," said Clark.

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