Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa shot dead a civil society activist and wounded several other people during church-led demonstrations against President Joseph Kabila on Sunday, witnesses said.
In power since 2001, Kabila struck a deal with the main opposition bloc to stay on after his elected mandate expired in December 2016, but authorities missed a deadline to hold elections last year as required under the agreement.
The vote is now scheduled for this December, though election officials have hinted that polls may not be possible even then due to financial and logistical constraints.
Church groups have become the main opposing force to Kabila as political opposition parties have been hobbled by infighting or seen their leaders forced into exile.
“Our people no longer believe in the political will of our current leaders to ensure a peaceful transition of power,” one of the main organizing groups said in a statement before the march.
Catholic and evangelical churchgoers across Congo had been meant to take to the streets following Sunday services.
However, armed security forces surrounded Kinshasa’s main churches and blocked roads, preventing most demonstrations from starting and in some cases using teargas and gunfire to disperse them.
Witnesses who brought the body of the slain man to Kinshasa’s St. Joseph Hospital said he had been shot by police outside a church in the Lemba neighborhood.
Campaign organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) identified him as Rossy Mukindi, 36, an assistant university professor who set up a citizens action group called Collectif 2016.
Congolese civil society group ACAJ also confirmed the death and said 15 people had been injured in violence in Kinshasa, including four with gunshot wounds.
HRW said it had received reports of arrests and brutality by security forces across the country. As with previous protest marches, internet, mobile data and phone messaging were cut across Congo early on Sunday.
Kinshasa police commissioner General Sylvano Kasongo would not comment on reports that security forces had fired on protesters. The telephone of the spokesman for the national police appeared to be turned off on Sunday.
During a review of police on Saturday, Kasongo had announced a goal of “zero deaths” during the protests.
Security forces killed about a dozen civilians during two previous marches organized by Catholic activists since December.
The crackdowns have drawn international condemnation and stoked fears Congo could be sliding back towards the kind of war in which millions died at the turn of the century.
In the northern city of Kisangani, several witnesses reported that police had used teargas and gunfire to disperse marchers.
“I arrived back home without my family … Everyone fled in a different direction,” said one Kisangani resident, who was forced to flee after church services there and asked not to be identified.
A heavy security presence was visible on the streets of Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo, and violence was reported in the city of Bandundu, in the west.