Africa

Deadly DR Congo clashes over Joseph Kabila's future

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Media captionAs Maud Jullien reports, aggressive protesters threw stones at cars near the capital's airport

At least four people have been killed in protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo calling for President Joseph Kabila to step down next year.

The protests continued on Tuesday in the capital, Kinshasa, and internet connections were blocked following Monday's clashes between opposition supporters and security forces.

Demonstrators say government plans for a census are a ploy to delay elections.

Mr Kabila is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.

The government admits next year's elections could be delayed, but says the census is vital to ensure free and fair elections.

'Looters killed'

The BBC's Maud Jullien reports from Kinshasa that most shops are closed and internet and text messaging services have been blocked, apparently on the orders of the government.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Protesters think the census plan is a ploy to extend Mr Kabila's rule
Image copyright AFP
Image caption They accuse the president of trying to wage a "constitutional coup"
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The protests have turned violent, with casualties on both sides

Hundreds of angry young men burned tyres in several neighbourhoods, looted mainly Asian-owned shops and threw stones at cars, our reporter says.

A town hall in southern Kinshasa, a city with a population of more than nine million, was also set ablaze, AFP news agency reports.

In the poor area of Masina on the city's outskirts, police tried to disperse protesters by shooting into the air, our correspondent says.

Ten people were arrested on Tuesday, AFP reports.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said two policemen and two "looters" had been killed in Monday's clashes in the capital.

Human rights activists said up to 10 people may have been killed.

Opposition figures suggested the number of those who had died may be higher still.

Boycott

The demonstrators called on Mr Kabila to step down when his term expires and carried placards which said: "Don't touch the constitution".

Hundreds of people also protested on Monday in Goma, the main trading post in the east.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The protesters have vowed to force Mr Kabila to step down next year
Image caption Most businesses have remained closed

The protests coincided with a debate in the Senate, the upper parliamentary chamber, over government plans to hold a census before elections.

Most senators, including members of the governing party, said they were opposed to the plan because it risked destabilising the country.

The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, approved the plan on Saturday, in a vote boycotted by opposition MPs.

The opposition says this amounts to a "constitutional coup" by Mr Kabila, as it will take about three years for a census to be conducted in DR Congo, which is two-thirds of the size of western Europe, has very little infrastructure and is hit by instability in the east.

DR Congo, formerly known as Zaire, has never had a reliable census since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Mr Kabila took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila, who was president at the time, and has won two disputed elections since then.

DR Congo is rich in natural resources, but most people are poor.

Inside DR Congo
size map
The Democratic Republic of Congo covers 2,344,858 square km of land in the centre of Africa, making it the 12th largest country in the world.
size map
Eastern DR Congo is awash with a variety of different rebel groups – some have come from neighbouring countries, while others have formed as self-defence groups. Many are taking advantage of the lack of a strong state to seize control of the area's mineral riches.
mineral wealth map
DR Congo has abundant mineral wealth. It has more than 70% of the world's coltan, used to make vital components of mobile phones, 30% of the planet's diamond reserves and vast deposits of cobalt, copper and bauxite. This wealth however has attracted looters and fuelled the country's civil war.
transport map
Despite the country's size, transport infrastructure is very poor. Of 153,497km of roads, only 2,794km are paved. There are around 4,000 km of railways but much is narrow-gauge track and in poor condition. Waterways are vital to transport goods but journeys can take months to complete. Overcrowded boats frequently capsize, while DR Congo has more plane crashes than any other country.
population map
With an estimated population of 71 million, DR Congo is the fourth most populous country in Africa. Some 35% of the population live in cities and the capital Kinshasa is by far the largest, with more than 8 million inhabitants. DR Congo has around 200 ethnic identities with the majority of people belonging to the Kongo, Luba and Mongo groups.
demographic map
Given its size and resources DR Congo should be a prosperous country, but years of war, corruption and economic mismanagement have left it desperately poor. In 2011 it lags far behind in many key development indicators, with average life expectancy increasing by only 2 years since 1980, after a period when it actually fell during the mid 1990s.

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