DR Congo: Church leader backs protests, urges end to killings

DR Congo: Church leader backs protests, urges end to killings

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 5:20 pm

President Joseph Kabila:  third term plot ignites protest

President Joseph Kabila: third term plot ignites protest

The leader of the Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday weighed into the turmoil over legislation that would extend President Joseph Kabila’s term in office, telling the Congolese authorities to “stop killing your people”.

The archbishop of the mainly Christian country launched his outspoken attack as the official death toll rose to 11 from three days of violence which have prompted mounting international alarm.

“Certain political figures, along with law enforcement agencies, are sowing despair and creating insecurity,” Archbishop Laurent Monswengo said in a statement.

“We denounce these actions which have caused death and we are launching this plea: Stop killing your people.”

He called on the people of the troubled central African country to use “all legal and peaceful” means to oppose the bid to change the election law.

In the capital, gunshots rang out on Wednesday during a confrontation between students and police at Kinshasa University.

Dozens of students shouted “Kabila get out!” as police descended on the area to stop the demo and block others around the university.

In another neighbourhood, youths destroyed a police vehicle and police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protesters.

– ‘Sowing despair’ –

Protesters are rising up against legislation that would enable Kabila, who has been in power for 14 years, to extend his term beyond 2016 when his second mandate ends.

Twenty-eight people have been killed since Monday, according to a local human rights organisation, while the government’s spokesman put the latest death toll at 11 — one police officer and 10 protesters.

The situation was calm later Wednesday, the spokesman added, “thanks to mixed patrols of police and soldiers”.

Internet and mobile phone services, meanwhile, were cut and schools remained closed, according to residents.

The European Union called Wednesday for restraint and said the country’s election timetable should abide by the constitution.

“All sides should seek a consensus allowing a return to calm,” it said in a statement. “Respect of the electoral calendar as fixed by the constitution is central to the debate.”

Many African presidents have tried, and often succeeded, to stay in power by rewriting their countries’ constitutions to get rid of limits on presidential terms.

Last year, Burkina Faso’s president Blaise Compaore was chased from power when he tried to change the constitution to extend his mandate.

In Kinshasa on Tuesday, hundreds of youths torched a town hall, while several inmates escaped from a prison and looters made off with police weapons.

At least 20 people were arrested as protesters pelted state buildings, public buses and even passing cars with rocks.

Opposition parties have called for mass demonstrations against the new electoral bill which is now being debated in the Senate after being approved by the lower house.

Speaking from Belgium on Tuesday, DR Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi called on the Congolese people to force a “dying regime” from power.

Tshisekedi, 82, who is in Europe recovering from illness, has been in opposition since the 1960s, previously taking on the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko as well as Kabila’s father Laurent Kabila.

– Warning of ‘total impasse’ –

“The sham regime in Kinshasa is constantly committing irresponsible acts of provocation, plunging the nation into a total impasse that could lead to widespread chaos,” he said.

He called on Congolese soldiers and police to “protect citizens and not to obey perverse orders aimed at killing defenceless men and women.”

The unrest is the latest upheaval to rock the mineral-rich country which has been plagued by wars and weakened by decades of misrule.

Kabila, now 43, is the son of former president Laurent Kabila who as a rebel leader in 1997 toppled Mobutu.

The younger Kabila came to power in January 2001 when politicians rushed to make the young soldier head of state after the assassination of his father.

He was returned to office in 2006 and began his second five-year constitutional term after a hotly disputed vote in 2011.

His opponents believe that Kabila wants to prolong his mandate by making the presidential and parliamentary elections contingent on a new electoral roll, after a census across the vast country set to begin this year.

The government has acknowledged that the census could delay elections due at the end of 2016, but regional analysts and diplomats have estimated the process could take up to three years.

Join The Conversation

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.