Protesters clash with Congo police over likely delay of November vote

Reuters News
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Posted: May 26, 2016 8:36 AM

By Aaron Ross

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Demonstrators clashed with police in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday after opposition leaders called for a day of nationwide protest against President Joseph Kabila over indications that November elections will be postponed.

Security forces also fired tear gas at an opposition march in the capital Kinshasa, in the far west of the vast 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 elections due in November are not held.

While a march that was authorized in Kinshasa drew several thousand opposition supporters, demonstrations in other cities were banned by local authorities.

In Goma, eastern Congo's largest city, police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters who burned tires and blocked streets with large rocks, according to local civic leader Thomas d'Acquin Mwiti, who was present at the demonstration.

"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 he had also heard gunfire but could not determine who was shooting. Other witness confirmed that clashes had occurred. Police officials in Goma were not immediately reachable for comment.

Constitutional term limits bar Kabila, in power since 2001, from running for a third elected term. But the government has said the election to choose his successor is likely to be delayed by budgetary and logistical obstacles.

Opposition leaders, however, accuse Kabila of stalling the elections in order to extend his rule, and Western nations including the United States have warned him to stick to the electoral calendar.

Government officials have denied Kabila is seeking to cling to power.

"Kabila is one man. The republic will remain. This is not a monarchy," said Xavier Mdula, an unemployed middle-aged man who participated in the demonstration in Kinshasa.

While the march began peacefully, security forces soon intervened, accusing opposition supporters of straying from the approved route. When the marchers continued to advance, police fired tear gas, scattering protesters into side streets, before some attempted to continue the demonstration along the previously agree upon route.

Calls to Kinshasa's police chief were not answered.

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.

(Reporting by Kenny Katombe in Lubumbashi; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Mark Heinrich)