Human Rights Watch says Congolese security forces have shot dead at least two people amid protests in the country’s capital against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down from power.
The international rights group’s Central Africa director, Ida Sawyer, said Sunday the two men were killed outside St. Alphonse church in the Matete district as security forces dispersed peaceful protesters.
Catholic Churches and activists had called for peaceful demonstrations a year after an accord had been signed to set a new election date, free political prisoners and ease tensions, saying the terms have not been met.
The government didn’t permit the protests, and cut off SMS and internet service to prevent gatherings.
Critics accuse Kabila of postponing elections to maintain his grip on power in the mineral-rich country.
Kabila has been in power since 2001. Elections to replace him have been delayed and are currently set for December 2018.
Impatience boiled over on Sunday, with all the vast central African country’s main opposition and civil society groups joining in the call for peaceful protests.
– 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.
They want Kabila, 46, to declare publicly that he will not run for another term as president.