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Congo | Feb 26, 2018

Two killed in weekend DR Congo protests, further unrest in east

One man was shot and injured in Kinshasa during a protest called by the Catholic Church, later dying of his injuries.  By John WESSELS (AFP)
One man was shot and injured in Kinshasa during a protest called by the Catholic Church, later dying of his injuries. By John WESSELS (AFP)

The deaths of two people during banned weekend marches in the Democratic Republic of Congo deepened public outrage Monday after authorities put down the latest in a series of demonstrations against the rule of President Joseph Kabila.

Rally participants were horrified to learn that activist Rossy Mukendi, a father of two in his 30s, had died after being shot by security forces -- a shooting the Congolese Association for Access to Justice pressure group condemned as a premeditated "assassination".

AFP reporters in Kinshasa witnessed him being taken still alive to the capital's Saint Joseph de Limete hospital by a Red Cross team, but he later succumbed to his wounds.

Bishop Donatien Nshole, as the Catholic Church supported the rallies, told AFP another man was shot dead by a guard in the northwestern city of Mbandaka.

The Church-backed protests came after months of tension sparked by Kabila's prolonged rule and a long-delayed election in the vast and chronically unstable central African country.

Supporters on Monday shared over social media an image of Mukendi with the legend "the people will always win."

Bienvenu Matumo of the Struggle for Change (Lucha) protest movement told AFP by email he was aghast at the news.

"I am shocked by the murder of our colleague Rossy Mukendi of the Collective 2016 citizen movement. Kabila's barbarity has gone too far. How far will this man go? I can't believe it."

The head of the UN's DR Congo mission Leila Zerrougui said in a statement she "regrets that at least two people were killed... despite instructions given to security forces to show restraint."

She urged "the Congolese authorities to conduct credible investigations into these incidents and to hold those responsible accountable," and stressed the "importance of upholding the rights of the Congolese people to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly."

Prominent activist Christian Lumu vowed in a posting to Facebook that Mukendi's death would not go unavenged while rally organisers insisted that they would keep up pressure on Kabila "until we have regained our dignity and our freedom.

'Troublemakers '

The Congolese police, after first insisting there were no fatalities, changed tack Monday, saying two "troublemakers" had died.

Colonel Rombaut-Pierrot Mwanamputu said on Okapi radio that one of the "troublemakers" had sought "to create disorder" and was injured by a rubber bullet.

A group linked to the influential Catholic Church said that as many as three million people had taken part in rallies nationwide, though the figure could not be independently verified.

In DR Congo's second city Lubumbashi, youths set tyres on fire before being dispersed by riot police.

The anti-Kabila sentiment stems from his refusal to stand down from office in December 2016 at the end of his second elected term.

He has controversially stayed on under laws enabling him to retain power until his successor is elected.

In January, Kabila accused the Catholic Church of interfering in politics.

Previous protests on New Year's Eve and January 21 saw a total of 15 people killed by security forces, according to tolls given by organisers and the United Nations.

The government said just two people died.

Unrest in east

In a separate development on Monday, local authorities said nine people were killed in an attack blamed on a Hutu militia in the troubled eastern province of North Kivu.

"Four civilians were killed in an attack at Bwalanda by Mai-Mai Nyatura (a Hutu militia). Five militia were killed in response," local administrator Jeannot Makasi told AFP.

Eastern DR Congo has been fought over for more than 20 years by various ethnic groups battling for control of its mining resources.