January 19, 2015 / 10:24 AM / 3 years ago

At least four dead in protests over possible Congo election delay

Riot policemen detain a demonstrator during a nation-wide protest as opposition parties tried to block a change in the law that may delay elections, in Goma eastern Democratic Republic of Congo January 19, 2015. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

KINSHASA (Reuters) - At least four people were killed on Monday in clashes between security forces and protesters in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital as opposition parties tried to block a change in the law that may delay elections due in 2016.

Protesters burned tyres and police in riot gear and presidential guards deployed across Kinshasa. Protests also erupted in Goma, the main city in eastern Congo, where a Reuters reporter at a march saw at least two people with bullet wounds.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende denied that security forces had fired on protesters. He said two officers had been killed by unknown gunmen, and private guards had killed two civilians looting a warehouse. Seven officers and three civilians were taken to hospital, Mende said.

However, Martin Fayulu, president of the opposition Engagement for Citizenship and Development party, said at least 13 civilians had been killed in Kinshasa.

The demonstrators oppose a law that requires a census to be conducted before the presidential and parliamentary elections due in 2016 can be held, a move that could delay the polls by years and allow President Joseph Kabila to put off standing down.

The bill, which critics call a constitutional coup, has been approved by the lower house of parliament and was due to be examined by the senate on Tuesday.

The government says the census is essential to the electoral process in the vast country of 65 million people, home to reserves of copper, gold and diamonds.

“We demand that Kabila leaves,” said protester Jean-Paul Beya. “We think the people are getting there little by little and we will replicate Burkina,” he said. Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaore, was ousted last October in an uprising triggered by his bid to stay in power by rescinding term limits.

Opposition parties said two of their leaders who had called on followers to occupy parliament had been prevented from leaving the offices of the UNC party by security forces.

A witness in the Matonge neighbourhood near parliament said police had fired in the air in a bid to disperse people, and crowds had looted Chinese-owned shops. Clashes subsided by late afternoon, though many streets in the city remained empty.

“There will be no more impunity in this country,” Mende said, adding that opposition leaders who called for looting would be held accountable.

A Reuters reporter saw one person who had been shot in the shoulder being treated in Kinshasa’s main hospital.

Kabila’s rivals struggle to mobilise large groups, partly because they fear the police. Before Monday’s march, opposition leaders called on supporters to fight back against police.

Additional by Kenny Katombe in Goma, David Lewis in Dakar; Writing by David Lewis and Emma Farge; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Kevin Liffey

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