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At least two killed in clashes as opposition protests sweep DR Congo

Kinshasa, DR Congo | AFP |

At least two people were reported killed Thursday as rallies across DR Congo against President Joseph Kabila turned violent, with police firing tear gas in the capital Kinshasa and the eastern city of Goma.

Large numbers of riot police were deployed across the country for the rallies called by three opposition groups in defiance of government bans.

Tensions have been soaring in the country where Kabila, in power since his father’s assassination in 2001, is widely thought to be preparing to remain in office beyond the two terms allowed under the constitution.

“A policewoman was killed by the crowd and a protester was also killed,” in the eastern city of Goma, Jose Maria Aranaz, who heads the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the deeply restive nation, told AFP.

But Goma’s police chief denied there were any police deaths, saying only a “looter” had been killed.

Locals said Goma police fired tear gas to disperse youths who had set up barricades and blocked roads.

Clashes also broke out in the north of Kinshasa, where about 5,000 demonstrators were on the streets to oppose moves to keep Kabila in power beyond the expiry of his second term in December.

Police said that while the Kinshasa demonstration had the go-ahead from authorities, the crowds had deviated from an agreed route.

“In these cases we don’t negotiate, we disperse,” national police spokesman Colonel Pierre Rombaut Mwanamputu told AFP.

“There have been some incidents” and “some arrests,” he said, without elaborating.

Police fired tear gas against stone-throwing protesters and then charged them to break up the demonstration, AFP journalists said.

‘Kabila buzz off’

The protestors in Kinshasa, home to about 10 million people, shouted slogans such as “No to a third mandate”, “People rise up” and “Kabila buzz off.”

As well as fearing Kabila will seek to extend his rule, opposition groups are also angry that his powerful rival, football magnate Moise Katumbi, was all but pushed into exile in South Africa last Friday.

In the second city and mining hub of Lubumbashi, dozens of riot police stood guard in the city centre where many shops remained shuttered and the number of vehicles on the roads was far lower than usual, according to an AFP team.

The opposition called for demonstrations after the Constitutional Court ruled earlier this month that Kabila, 44, could remain in a caretaker capacity beyond the expiry of his second term, sparking widespread outrage.

Katumbi — who announced this month his plans to run for the presidency — has been accused of hiring foreign mercenaries as part of an alleged plot to overthrow Kabila.

– UN calls for restraint -UN chief Ban Ki-moon called Wednesday for restraint by all sides and said the United Nations was ready to help foster political dialogue in the resource rich but long troubled central African country.

Ban is “profoundly concerned by reports of increasing political tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo linked to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the country’s electoral process,” his spokesman said.

Political unrest has plagued Congo for months over concerns that Kabila intends to extend his rule despite being legally barred from seeking a third term.

The strongman’s supporters want elections due later this year to be delayed for two to four years because of logistical and financial difficulties.

Despite opposition support for Katumbi, many rank-and-file dissidents are disappointed he left the country on May 20, ostensibly to undergo treatment at a South African hospital.

His departure came a day after he was charged with “threatening the internal and external security of the state” for allegedly hiring foreign mercenaries, including an American.

The 51-year-old businessman has denied the allegations as “grotesque lies” and says the case is politically motivated.

Katumbi was an ally of Kabila’s but broke with him in September after the president announced he would carve up DR Congo’s provinces, including Katumbi’s stronghold of Katanga, into smaller entities.

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