KINSHASA, Congo — Congolese security forces killed at least seven people and at least one policeman died amid violence as more than a thousand people demonstrated in the capital against President Kabila’s refusal to step down from power, the United Nations mission in Congo and police said Sunday.
U.N. Congo mission spokeswoman Florence Marchal said at least 82 people have been arrested across the country in connection with Sunday’s protests. She condemned the use of force against peaceful demonstrators and suppression of rights.
Human Rights Watch Central Africa director Ida Sawyer said Congolese security forces shot dead two men outside St. Alphonse church in the Matete district.
Congo police spokesman Col. Pierrot Mwanamputu, however, said the two were killed after an altercation with police. He said a police officer also died.
Leonie Kandolo, spokeswoman for one of the groups that organized the demonstrations, said more than 10 people were killed and several injured. She also said that dozens, including some priests, have been detained.
Catholic churches and activists had called for peaceful demonstrations after Sunday mass, one year after the Catholic Church oversaw the signing of an accord that set a new election date to ease tensions in the mineral-rich country.
Kabila, whose mandate ended December 2016, had agreed to set an election by the end of 2017. Congo’s election commission says the vote cannot be held until December 2018. Critics accuse Kabila of postponing elections to maintain his grip on power, causing tensions to increase and provoking violence and deadly street demonstrations across the country since the end of 2016.
The government refused permits for the demonstrations Sunday, and shut down internet and SMS services countrywide ahead of the planned anti-government protests for what it called security reasons.
More than 160 churches participated in the call. Police responded with tear gas in some areas of Kinshasa.
Protests had calmed by midday, though barricades remained erected ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Congo’s election commission has set new presidential and legislative elections for Dec. 23, 2018, though the opposition has said it would only agree to delay the vote until June 2018.
Kabila can remain in power until the next election is held, although he is barred by the Constitution from seeking another term in office.
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.