Gun­fire, ar­rests in Congo as Ka­bila’s man­date ends

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Gun­fire erupted in ma­jor DR Congo ci­ties and the UN voiced alarm over a wave of ar­rests, as pro­test­ers de­manded Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila step down af­ter his man­date ex­pired yes­ter­day. With fears of vi­o­lence high in the vast and un­sta­ble na­tion, shots rang out in the cap­i­tal Kinshasa, there was sus­tained gun­fire in the coun­try’s sec­ond city of Lubum­bashi, and the thud of heavy weapons in cen­tral Kananga.

Plumes of smoke from burn­ing bar­ri­cades hung over Kinshasa af­ter overnight protests, and ac­tiv­ity ground to a halt as troop car­ri­ers pa­trolled the largely empty streets of the megac­ity of 10 mil­lion. Ten­sion has been mount­ing for months in Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo ahead of the De­cem­ber 20 dead­line for Ka­bila’s sec­ond and fi­nal term in of­fice to end.

With no elec­tion planned and no sign of the pres­i­dent step­ping down, vet­eran op­po­si­tion leader Eti­enne Tshisekedi fi­nally is­sued a plea to the coun­try’s 70 mil­lion peo­ple to re­ject the Ka­bila ad­min­is­tra­tion. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has warned of spi­ral­ing vi­o­lence and France urged the gov­ern­ment to “re­spect hu­man rights” as the UN voiced alarm over the ar­rests of 113 op­po­si­tion lead­ers and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists in four days. “I am gravely con­cerned by the ar­rests of those who seek to ex­press their po­lit­i­cal views,” said Ma­man Sambo Sidikou, who heads the large UN mis­sion in Congo.

An AFP cor­re­spon­dent said the streets of Lubum­bashi’s Matuba neigh­bor­hood were strewn with rocks and burnt tyres early yes­ter­day amid a heavy po­lice pres­ence. Lo­cal author­i­ties said “po­lice were forced to fire into the air to dis­perse civil­ians” be­cause some pro­test­ers were armed. It was im­pos­si­ble to im­me­di­ately ver­ify that claim. In Kananga in cen­tral DR Congo, res­i­dents re­ported the sound of light and heavy arms near the air­port. A pri­est said there were scenes of panic as res­i­dents fled the area.

‘Tear­gas and gun­fire’

Sev­eral peo­ple are thought to have been killed in the un­rest in var­i­ous re­gions, but this has yet to be con­firmed. Na­tional po­lice spokesman Pierre-Rom­baut Mwanam­putu told AFP he was un­able to give an im­me­di­ate toll af­ter the vi­o­lence. “For­tu­nately, we are not back to the slaugh­ter of Septem­ber,” he said, re­fer­ring to blood­shed in Septem­ber when at least 53 anti-Ka­bila pro­test­ers died in two days, ac­cord­ing to the UN.

The 45-year-old leader, who has ruled since 2001, is con­sti­tu­tion­ally barred from seek­ing a third term but un­der a con­tro­ver­sial re­cent con­sti­tu­tional court or­der, he may stay on un­til a suc­ces­sor is cho­sen. As the clock ticked on yes­ter­day’s end-of-man­date dead­line, crowds had gath­ered be­fore mid­night Mon­day to blow whis­tles and beat on im­pro­vised drums, call­ing on Ka­bila to quit.

“There was tear­gas and gun­fire,” said An­dre, a res­i­dent of Kinshasa’s Matete neigh­bor­hood, ad­ding that se­cu­rity forces “threat­ened the pop­u­la­tion.” And in what op­po­nents dubbed “a provo­ca­tion”, state TV overnight an­nounced a new gov­ern­ment. Headed by Samy Bani­banga, it is part of an Oc­to­ber deal be­tween the rul­ing party and tiny fringe op­po­si­tion groups that en­ables Ka­bila to re­main in of­fice pend­ing elec­tions in April 2018. But the main op­po­si­tion bloc re­jects this plan.

‘Cav­ing in to pres­sure’

In a YouTube video re­leased dur­ing the night, op­po­si­tion leader Tshisekedi launched “a solemn ap­peal to the Con­golese peo­ple to no longer rec­og­nize the author­ity of Mr. Joseph Ka­bila, to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to no longer deal with Joseph Ka­bila in the name of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo”. Valentin Mubake, a close aide to Tshisekedi, con­firmed to AFP that the video was au­then­tic.

The mes­sage was not avail­able in the DR Congo where author­i­ties since Sun­day have im­posed con­trols on pic­tures and video on so­cial me­dia net­works. Tshisekedi said he hoped to con­tinue talks launched by the Catholic Church last week to find a peace­ful so­lu­tion to the cri­sis. The talks were halted Satur­day with no sig­nif­i­cant progress but were to re­sume on Wed­nes­day. — AFP

KINSHASA: A man holds a bird as a crowd gath­ers to protest in the neigh­bor­hood of Yolo. — AFP

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