Tear gas as police break up DR Congo opposition protests
Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators in several Congolese cities on Thursday as they gathered for a major opposition protest to demand that President Joseph Kabila step down.
Opposition figures had vowed to push ahead with the demonstrations, despite a ban, as tensions soar over Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his term in December 2016.
In power since 2001, Kabila’s prolonged rule has already led to street protests and a bloody crackdown.
Elections had been due to take place by the end of 2017 under a deal with the opposition aimed at avoiding bloodshed, but the date has since been pushed back until December 2018, further heightening tensions.
In Kinshasa, police fired tear gas to disperse about a hundred supporters outside the home of opposition coalition head Felix Tshisekedi, blocking off access to the street, AFP correspondents said.
And several people were arrested around Kinshasa university campus, which has been closely watched by the police.
Further east, police used tear gas to break up a demonstration in Kananga, the main city in the restive central Kasai province, injuring two people, with several others taking refuge in facilities run by the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, an AFP correspondent said.
Young demonstrators also clashed with police and erected barricades in Goma, capital of the troubled North Kivu province which is a stronghold of the Lucha citizens’ movement.
Lucha, whose name means “Struggle for Change”, said 10 of its activists had been arrested in neighbouring South Kivu.
Police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu warned there would be no tolerance for anyone disturbing the public order.
“The police will discourage anyone who prevents others from freely going about their business,” he said.
– ‘We’ve had enough’ –
Kabila’s stubborn refusal to leave office has fuelled anger and frustration which is threatening to unleash a flareup of violence in this vast war-torn central African country.
Tshisekedi, who called Thursday’s protests, urged people to take to the streets “to show that we’ve had enough of this regime which is on its way out”.
The opposition wants “a transition without Kabila” from December 31.
But authorities in larger towns and cities quickly slapped a ban on the protests, prompting noises of concern from the UN, which urged Kinshasa to “respect” the right to freedom of assembly.
During protest marches in Goma and the city of Butembo on Tuesday, at least six people were wounded and 26 arrested, MONUSCU said.
Kabila, who took over from his father in 2001, was to have stepped down in December after a constitutional maximum of two terms in office.
However, he is allowed to remain in office until a successor is elected, according to a court ruling.
Under international pressure, the mineral-rich but chronically poor and politically unstable country has now scheduled an election for December 23, 2018.
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