KINSHASA: At least 12 Catholic al-tar boys detained as they marched to demand President Joseph Kabila leave power and release political prisoners.
Congo security forces shot dead two men and detained 12 Catholic altar boys in the capital Kinshasa, where the Catholic church had called banned marches against President Joseph Kabila staying in power.
The two men were killed outside St Alphonse church in Kinshasa’s Matete district, Human Right Watch’s Central Africa Director Ida Sawyer said.
During the protests, police and soldiers set up checkpoints across Kinshasa and fired tear gas at opposition supporters.
Authorities ordered internet and SMS services to be cut following calls by Catholic activists for a protest march after Sunday mass. The activists are demanding that Kabila commit to not changing the constitution to stand for a third term and to release political prisoners.
Kabila has been in power since 2001 when he succeeded his assassinated father Laurent Kabila. He refused to step down at the end of his second and final term in December 2016.
At the Notre Dame du Congo cathedral in Kinshasa’s Lingwala district, where opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was attending mass, dozens of police and soldiers blocked the path of more than 100 opposition supporters as they prepared to try to march.
Tshisekedi, however, who had backed the activists’ call to march, left the church in a vehicle, spurring angry shou-ts from the crowd, which said he was abandoning them.
The police have banned demonstrations and said that all gatherings of more than five people will be dispersed. Across the city, police and soldiers searched vehicles and checked passengers’ identifications.
Kabila’s ruling coalition and opposition leaders struck a deal last December 31 that allowed Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of his second and final term but required that the election to replace him be held by the end of 2017.
The country’s electoral commission, however, later said that was not possible and scheduled the vote for December 23, 2018.
About 150 Catholic churches have urged believers to heed their call to protest, bibles and crucifixes in hand on Sunday, in the capital Kinshasa to demand implementation of a deal signed exactly a year ago and designed to restore stability with Kabila stepping down.
Neither the National Episcopal Conference nor the country’s Vatican representative has commented on the planned rally.
But the governor of the city of 10 million on Saturday stated the unauthorized march cannot proceed.
“The city does not have sufficient numbers of police officers to supervise this march,” Andre Kimbuta said. “Therefore, I do not recognize the authorization requested.”
March spokeswoman Leonie Kandolo insisted, however, that “lay people will march tomorrow (and) the city authority and the police must fulfil their role of protecting people and property.”
The opposition has complained in recent days that new electoral reforms “automatically” ban certain hopefuls from next year’s poll by setting a minimum vote share threshold a candidate must win to obtain a seat as well as demanding a deposit equivalent to several hundred dollars.
Recent days have seen three pro-democracy activists released after spending five months in prison for organising “an anarchic march” in the country’s second-largest city Lubumbashi.
But another dozen anti-Kabila activists from the Struggle for Change movement were arrested on Friday after a sit-down protest near the southern city of Kananga.