DR Congo unrest: Catholic Church backs protests

  • 21 January 2015
  • From the section Africa
Media captionThe BBC's Maud Jullien reports on days of violent clashes

The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo has thrown its weight behind protests against President Joseph Kabila extending his rule.

It called on people to peacefully oppose his move to delay presidential elections until a census is held.

At least 11 people have so far been been killed in the protests.

It is the worst unrest in the capital, Kinshasa, since the riots which broke out after Mr Kabila won a second term in disputed elections in 2011.

Mr Kabila, who first took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father Laurent, is constitutionally barred from running for another term in elections due next year.

Image caption The opposition accuses the government of trying to stage a "constitutional coup"

'Dormitories ablaze'

The opposition says government plans for a census are a ploy to delay the poll so that he can hang on to power.

The government admits the election could be delayed, but says the census is vital to ensure polls are free and fair.

The Catholic Church, the largest in DR Congo, has shut its schools as violent protests continued in Kinshasa for a third day.

Image caption Kinshasa is seen as an opposition stronghold

At the scene: Maud Jullien, BBC Africa, Kinshasa

We went for a drive to the districts everyone is avoiding the days in the east of the capital - and there were traces of violence everywhere: Burnt cars; tyres; shattered glass; usually busy roads completely empty.

The general sense of chaos was worsened by the fact that the internet, text messaging and popular French radio station RFI have all been cut off.

At the University of Kinshasa, where there have been clashes for three days now, we saw hundreds of young men holding something of a siege.

There was a mix of anger and excitement at being all together defending a common cause.

They say dozens of students were killed over the past few days by live bullets fired by the police, including four on Wednesday morning when the Republican guard and the police stormed the campus.

Despite the violence, their determination to stop the bill from passing seemed unfaltering.


On Tuesday, internet connections and text messaging services were blocked, apparently on the orders of the government.

Many shops had been looted and set ablaze as the protests turned violent, our correspondent says.

Catholic Church head Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya said "certain political men, with the security forces" were in "desolation" and causing insecurity in DR Congo.

"Stop killing your people," he said in a statement.

Image caption The unrest has caused extensive damage
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The clashes are the some of the worst seen in Kinshasa since Mr Kabila was re-elected in 2011

The cardinal called on the public to challenge by all "legal and peaceful means any attempt to change laws that are essential to the electoral process".

'Constitutional coup'

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the 11 who died in Monday's and Tuesday's clashes included a policeman shot by a sniper and 10 civilians killed by security guards while attempting to loot private properties.

He said 22 people had been wounded, most of them policemen.

Opposition leader Vital Kamerhe disputed the government's figures, saying 28 protesters had been killed - eight on Tuesday and 20 on Monday.

Image caption Protesters are adamant that the elections should be held next year
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many shops were looted as the protest turned violent
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The protesters have vowed to force Mr Kabila to step down

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.

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