Several killed as DR Congo tries to halt anti-Kabila protests

At least four people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday amid protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down from power.

Two men were killed outside St. Alphonse church in the Matete district of the capital Kinshasa, Human Rights Watch said, as security forces dispersed peaceful protesters.

A policeman was also killed while a fourth person was killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai province, AFP reported. A UN source later said that eight people had died and some 100 were arrested in the demonstrations.

Catholic churches and activists had called for peaceful protests to mark a year since an accord was signed to set a new election date, free political prisoners and ease tensions, saying the terms have not been met.

The protesters were demanding that Kabila promise he would not once again seek to extend his time in power in the mostly Catholic former Belgian colony.

Kabila has been in power since 2001. Impatience boiled over on Sunday, with all the vast central African country’s main opposition and civil society groups joining in the call for protests.

“It’s very unlikely that he (Kabila) would simply step down,” historian and regional expert Gérard Prunier told our repoters.

The next elections are scheduled to take place before June 2018, but even with this latest delay it’s “rather unlikely” that Kabila will let them go ahead, Prunier said.

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Soldiers storm church
A churchgoer who asked not to be named told AFP that officers dispersed worshippers from a mass in the parish of St. Michael’s in central Kinshasa on Sunday morning.

“While we were praying, the soldiers and the police entered the church compound and fired tear gas at the church,” he said.

Another parishioner who identified herself as Chantal said: “People fell, first-aiders are resuscitating old ladies who have fallen” — but added that the priest carried on saying mass.

Officers later detained 12 altar boys dressed in their liturgical robes outside one church as they led a protest march.

Earlier at the Notre-Dame of Congo Cathedral in Gombe, north Kinshasa, security forces also fired tear gas as opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi arrived, AFP journalists saw.

The parish priest asked worshippers to “return to their homes in peace because there is a heavy presence of soldiers and police ready to fire”.

In Kinshasa, Catholics of the “Lay Coordinating Committee” had invited worshippers to walk, holding bibles, rosaries and crucifixes, after mass on Sunday.

‘Doubtful’ that social unrest could spread
They want Kabila, 46, to declare publicly that he will not run for another term as president.

“If there is a lot of bloodshed in the streets in Kinshasa then Kabila could fear … an uprising against him,” Thierry Vircoulon, associate researcher at IFRI’s Sub-Saharan African programme, told our reportes.

“What will have an impact,” Vircoulon added, “is how long the Catholic community and opposition can sustain protests and if this spreads to other towns.

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“For the time being the opposition has not been able to go mobilise people for a long time apart from at Kinshasa. So it appears doubtful that this social unrest could spread. That’s also because people are very poor so they can’t afford to take time off to protest and security forces have always been able to maintain control.”

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