Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo killed more than 50 people on Monday, according to the opposition, in a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged authorities to exercise maximum restraint as protesters in Kinshasa denounce what they see as President Joseph Kabila’s bid to extend his mandate beyond the two-term limit.
Angry crowds tore down photographs of Kabila, chanting in French: “it’s over for you” and “we don’t want you”.
“We are defending our democracy. Kabila, we don’t want you anymore,” cried one demonstrator, Patrick Lelu.
As violence flared, rights groups reported dozens of arrests of protesters and journalists in the capital and other cities.
But, denouncing a movement bent on insurrection, the Congolese Interior Minister gave a provisional death toll of 17, including three policemen, one of whom he said was burned alive.
“The government of the republic condemns any use of violence with the aim of spreading disorder and chaos in our country and creating the conditions to challenge democratic order,” Interior Minister Évariste Boshab told reporters.
Calling for protests to intensify, the opposition accuses Kabila of plotting to extend his
tenure by delaying elections supposed to be held in November – something his supporters deny.
Kabila is under growing local and international pressure to step down when his term of office legally ends in December.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Monday that the clashes were preceded by intensified government repression.
“Today’s march shows that the security forces have not switched their tactics and are still clamping down on anyone opposed to Kabila,” said Ida Sawyer, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“People want their constitution to be respected and are willing to risk their lives to make sure that happens.” She added that three children were shot in Goma during the clashes.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Monday described the situation in Congo as “extremely worrying and very dangerous”, adding that European nations will discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions.
The United States has already threatened sanctions against political figures in Congo over electoral delays. A senior adviser to Kabila has pleaded to Washington not to.
The US embassy said on its Twitter feed that it was “outraged” by the “harassment” of its special envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Thomas Perriello, at Kinshasa’s airport.
Congo’s “Presidential Majority”, as Kabila’s supporters call themselves, had accused Perriello, in a Sunday statement, of jeopardising talks aimed at resolving Congo’s political crisis.