Kinshasa - UN chief Antonio Guterres on Friday hailed "progress" towards holding long-delayed elections in Democratic Republic of Congo but criticised the government for brutally putting down demonstrations against President Joseph Kabila.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. The latest timetable to hold elections is for December 23 - a year later than scheduled under a New Year's Eve 2016 peace deal brokered by the Catholic Church."I commend the measures taken by the government to put in place a legal framework for the December 23 elections," Guterres said in a report.He noted the "encouraging progress accomplished by the national electoral commission regarding work on voters' rolls" in the Democratic Republic of Congo.KEEP UPDATED on the latest news from around the continent by subscribing to our FREE newsletter, Hello Africa.FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook. Kabila has refused to state clearly whether he intends to stand again and fears have multiplied that the country, which experienced wars from 1996-97 and from 1998-2003, could explode into violence once more.This has sparked protests and a brutal crackdown and at least 15 people have been killed in two marches in December and January where police fired tear gas and live bullets, according to the UN and church authorities.Guterres said he was "concerned by the violent repression on peaceful demonstrators on December 31 and January 21," and asked the government to "assure that basic rights are respected."However, a nationwide stoppage called by 10 pro-democracy groups failed to take off. Traffic was normal in the sprawling capital Kinshasa and shops and schools were open in all the major cities despite the "ghost town" protest call.In addition to a deepening political crisis, the DRC is struggling with armed conflict in its vast, resource-rich east, which is under the sway of rebel groups.The country is in the grip of a "shocking" humanitarian crisis with 4.5 million people in need of aid, the highest number in Africa, the UN's envoy to the DRC, Leila Zerrougui has said.