Church-backed protests against Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to quit power were expected to go ahead Sunday despite a ban and bloody crackdowns on past rallies.
The chronically unstable nation is braced for more unrest following months of tension sparked by Kabila’s prolonged rule and long-delayed elections.
Hundreds of ruling party supporters stormed Kinshasa cathedral on Saturday after authorities banned the march called by the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC), an organisation close to the church and an influential social and spiritual force.
Previous protests on New Year’s Eve and January 21 saw 15 people killed by security forces, according to tolls given by organisers and the United Nations. The government says just two people died in those protests.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Kinshasa police chief General Sylvano Kasongo said he was under orders to “take measures to ensure the security of the population, and to stop anyone who attempts to disturb public order”.
He added: “The goal is to have zero casualties.”
A senior military judge told AFP: “I only hope there are no more deaths this time.”
On Saturday evening, tensions were high in Kinshasa, where police put up barricades, searched vehicles and checked people’s IDs.
Kinshasa governor Andre Kimbuta meanwhile told the Catholic organisers in a letter that without an agreed route, the city authorities “cannot guarantee proper supervision” of the demonstration.
On Friday, the European Union, Switzerland and Canada issued a joint statement underscoring the “importance of respecting fundamental rights including the right to demonstrate.”
Kabila was due to stand down from office in December 2016, ending his second elected term, but he has controversially stayed on under laws enabling him to retain power until his successor is elected.
In January he accused the church of interfering in Congolese politics.
Political tension in DR Congo has been mounting since September 2016, when clashes between youths and security forces left dozens of people dead in Kinshasa.
Fears have multiplied that the country, which experienced wars from 1996-97 and from 1998-2003, could explode into violence once more.
The latest timetable to hold elections is for December 23 this year, two years later than scheduled.
But Kabila has refused to state clearly whether he intends to stand again.
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