KINSHASA (Reuters) - A protester and a police officer were killed in Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday during protests against a possible delay to November elections, a United Nations official said.
Nationwide demonstrations were called by opposition parties and civil society groups to protest a May 11 ruling by Congo’s highest court that allows President Joseph Kabila to remain in power if presidential and parliamentary elections are delayed.
Constitutional term limits bar Kabila from running for a third term, but the government has said the election will likely be pushed back because of budgetary and logistical problems.
Opposition leaders accuse the president of stalling the elections in order to extend his 15-year rule, charges Kabila denies.
In Goma, eastern Congo’s largest city, at least one civilian was killed and two wounded by gunfire that most likely came from police, said Jose Maria Aranaz, director of the U.N.’s Congo-based Joint Human Rights Office. One police officer was killed when protesters threw stones, he said.
Police had earlier fired tear gas at protesters who burned tires and blocked streets with rocks, said local civic leader Thomas d‘Acquin Mwiti, who was at the demonstration.
“The protesters encountered ferocious resistance from the police, which led to clashes and barricades being set up,” he said.
Campaign group Human Rights Watch said at least one civilian was shot and killed and at least six others wounded in Goma, including a six-year-old girl, a boy, 12, and a woman, 80.
Spokesman for the national police, Pierre Mwanamputu, said a civilian was killed accidentally during an altercation with police but said no police officers had been killed. He denied that police had opened fire on protesters. About 20 people were detained in the city, he said.
Security forces also fired tear gas at an opposition march attended by thousands of people in the capital Kinshasa. Demonstrations in other cities were banned by local authorities.
Riot police were deployed in the streets of the southern mining hub of Lubumbashi, where supporters of opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi have repeatedly clashed with police this month.
The U.N. human rights office said on Twitter at least 59 people had been arrested across the country.
Reporting by Kenny Katombe in Lubumbashi; Writing by Joe Bavier and Makini Brice; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Edward McAllister