Friday 20 September, 2019

Congo says 32 dead in anti-government protests, cracks down

Congo officials on Wednesday vowed to round up those they say are responsible for violence and looting during street clashes this week over a delayed presidential election. Dozens were killed.

Thousands took to the streets of Congo's capital, Kinshasa, on Monday to oppose an election delay which some call a plot by President Joseph Kabila to stay in power after his mandate expires in late December.

Police spokesman Col. Pierrot Mwanamputu told reporters the official death toll was 32, including four police officers. A Human Rights Watch researcher has said at least 44 people were killed.

"Investigations will spare no one. If police or soldiers violated ethics or the law, measures will be taken," Mwanamputu said.

He said 114 people had already been arrested.

"Police have received the order to search wherever people are hiding, even in hospitals," prosecutor Flory Kabange Numbi said. "The General Directorate of Migration was ordered to ban these people from leaving Congolese territory."

Kabila's political future has been a source of tension in Congo for well over a year. The president, who came to power after his father's assassination in 2001, has yet to announce whether he will pursue another term in office, though the constitution prohibits it.

The electoral commission has filed for a delay of the presidential vote, originally scheduled for November, saying voter registration lists will not be ready. A high court has determined Kabila can stay in office until a new leader is elected.

Mwanamputu tried to minimize government responsibility for this week's death toll, saying protesters brandished Kalashnikov rifles and some opened fire.

"It is difficult to say who killed whom," he said.

But Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Tuesday that "most were killed when the security forces fired on crowds of protesters."

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