Police in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) say 32 people, including four police officers, have been killed during two days of clashes between protesting demonstrators and anti-riot forces in the capital, Kinshasa. Clashes erupted in Kinshasa on Monday, when thousands of opposition supporters rallied against President Joseph Kabila and his bid to extend his term, but the march soon turned violent as security forces were deployed to the site and fired live ammunition.
The clashes continued into the next day, when a number of people were burned alive by unknown assailants and some attacks were reported to have been launched on police positions. But the deadly chaos apparently fizzled out on Wednesday, and normal life more or less resumed in Kinshasa. Traffic was lighter than usual in the capital and schoolchildren remained at home as a precaution.
“The national police were backed by members of the (army) to stop the acts of looting and vandalism,” said police spokesman Pierre-Rombaut Mwana-Mputu on Wednesday, referring to the time of clashes.
The opposition claimed, however, that a far greater number of people — over 100 — had lost their lives in the unrest, rejecting the official figure announced by police.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said late on Tuesday that, based on “credible reports,” a total of 37 people had been killed in the clashes, 20 on Monday and 17 on Tuesday. The New York-based human rights group also said that at least six police officers were among those killed. Each side in the conflict has been blaming the other for the deadly violence in the capital. Congolese authorities have threatened to prosecute those who were behind the anti-government riots.
“The Congolese national police are actively seeking out the… authors of these grave acts of murder and plunder,” said Attorney General Flory Kabange Numbi on Wednesday. Opposition leader Moise Katumbi, meanwhile, has called for sanctions to be imposed on the government for the killings.
“If there are sanctions, there is going to be stability in Congo. Without sanctions, they (the security forces) will continue killing people like mosquitoes,” Katumbi said, adding that the UN must send an “independent commission” to the DR Congo to probe into the deaths of protesters.
The UN Security Council, in a Wednesday statement, called on all parties in the African country to cease the clashes and to engage in an “open, inclusive and peaceful” political dialogue about conducting “credible elections.” The statement, which was approved by all 15 council members, stressed “the crucial importance of peaceful, credible, inclusive, transparent and timely presidential elections, in accordance with the constitution.”
It also urged the Congolese authorities “to exercise maximum restraint in their response to protests.” President Kabila has ruled the mineral-rich DRC since 2001, and, under the constitution, should relinquish power on December 20, but he allegedly seeks ways, including pushing back the elections, to extend his presidency. The DR Congo has faced such problems over the past few decades as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.