DRC speaker: Security 'lapses' left 40 dead

2015-01-24 16:05
Protesters in 2016, in the city of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. (John Bompengo, AP)

Protesters in 2016, in the city of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. (John Bompengo, AP)

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Kinshasa - Democratic Republic of Congo's parliament speaker on Saturday admitted - briefly - security services "lapses" during protests against President Joseph Kabila that left around 40 people dead.

"Never again will we allow police to fire live bullets on demonstrators, students or others in DR Congo," Aubin Minaku, the speaker of the country's National Assembly, said in a tweet.

"There was a lapse, no supposed authority can give an order to fire on its people," he said, a sentence that was deleted from his Twitter account a short while later.

According to rights groups, at least 40 people have died in protests over the past week against a proposed bill that could extend Kabila's hold on power in the vast African nation.

The government has put the death toll at 12.

Excessive force

In a statement on Saturday, Human Rights Watch said that security forces used excessive force during the protests and then tried to remove evidence.

It said it has confirmed 36 dead in protests in the capital Kinshasa, 21 of whom were fatally shot by security forces, and four dead in the eastern city of Goma.

A previous toll by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) put the toll at 42.

The demonstrations broke out after the National Assembly last weekend passed a contested bill that many see as an attempt by Kabila to stay in power.

After the deadly unrest, the Senate on Friday voted unanimously to amend the legislation and a joint commission of both houses of parliament is now due to meet to try to hammer out an agreement on an amended bill.

If lawmakers cannot come to an agreement, the National Assembly would have the final word.

Census sticking point

At issue in the contested bill is a provision that ties 2016 presidential and legislative elections to a census, which is supposed to begin this year and is expected to take up to three years to complete.

Opponents of Kabila, who is constitutionally mandated to step down in 2016 when his second term ends, say he is trying to cling to power.

The government has acknowledged that the census could delay the elections.

Kabila, now 43, came to power in January 2001 when politicians rushed to make the young soldier head of state after the assassination of his father, rebel-turned-president Laurent Kabila.

The unrest over the bill is the latest upheaval to rock the former Zaire, which has been plagued by wars at a cost of millions of lives and weakened by decades of misrule.

Many African presidents have tried, and often succeeded, to stay in power by rewriting their countries' constitutions to get rid of limits on presidential terms.

Last year, Burkina Faso's president Blaise Compaore was chased from power when he tried to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule.

Read more on:    drc  |  central africa  |  human rights

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