A protester and a police officer were killed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, a United Nations official said, in protests against President Joseph Kabila over indications November’s elections will be postponed.
Security forces also fired tear gas at an opposition march in the capital Kinshasa, in the far west of the country.
Opposition parties and civil society groups called for nationwide demonstrations to protest against a May 11 ruling by Congo’s highest court that would allow the president to remain in power if presidential and parliamentary elections due in November are not held.
While a march that was authorised in Kinshasa drew several thousand opposition supporters, demonstrations in other cities were banned by local authorities.
In Goma, eastern Congo’s largest city, at least one civilian was killed and two wounded by gunfire that most likely came from police, said Jose Maria Aranaz, director of the U.N.’s Congo-based Joint Human Rights Office.
He said one police officer was killed when protesters threw stones. However, the governor of North Kivu province, Julien Paluku, denied that a police officer had died.
Police had earlier fired tear gas at protesters who burnt tyres and blocked streets with rocks, said local civic leader Thomas d’Acquin Mwiti, who was at the demonstration. He said he had heard gunfire but could not determine who was shooting.
“The protesters encountered ferocious resistance from the police, which led to clashes and barricades being set up. Some demonstrators were arrested. I don’t know how many yet,” he said.
The U.N. human rights office said on Twitter at least 59 people had been arrested across the country.
CLINGING TO POWER?
Other witnesses said clashes occurred during the demonstration, in which protesters also expressed anger at what they said was a lack of government action over a series of massacres around the eastern town of Beni.
Constitutional term limits bar Kabila, in power since 2001, from running for a third term, but the government has said the election to choose his successor is likely to be delayed by budgetary and logistical obstacles.
Opposition leaders accuse Kabila of stalling the elections in order to extend his rule. Western nations including the United States have warned him to stick to the election calendar. Government officials deny Kabila is seeking to remain in power.
“Kabila is one man. The republic will remain. This is not a monarchy,” said Xavier Mdula, an unemployed middle-aged man who took part in the demonstration in Kinshasa.
While the march began peacefully, security forces intervened, saying opposition supporters had strayed from the approved route. When the marchers advanced, police fired tear gas, scattering protesters into side streets where some began throwing rocks.
A heavy deployment of riot police was visible in the streets of the southern mining hub of Lubumbashi, where supporters of opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi have repeatedly clashed with police this month.