Several hurt in crackdown on DR Congo protests

The death toll from a crackdown on New Year's Eve demonstrations in Democratic Republic of Congo rose to 12, protestors said on Tuesday, as the country's powerful Catholic Church condemned what it called "barbarism" and the United Nations and France sounded their concern.

A police spokesman quoted by the Guardian on Sunday said four people had been killed in clashes with security forces in the capital, Kinshasa, and three of the deaths were being investigated.

Kabila, whose mandate ended in December 2016, had agreed to set an election date by the end of 2017.

U.N. Congo mission spokeswoman Florence Marchal said at least 82 people have been arrested across the country in connection with Sunday's protests.

Kabila can remain in power until the next election is held, although he is barred by the Constitution from seeking another term in office.

Catholic grassroots activists and civil rights groups have called for peaceful protests in response to the political situation, however, the latest round of protests has led to heavy police response.

Kabila has ruled since 2001 and was due to step down in December, but an election to select a new leader has been delayed by his administration to the extent that one is not planned until December 2018.

One army officer threatened a team of AFP reporters covering the crackdown at St. Michael's church in Kinshasa.

"We can only denounce, condemn and stigmatise the behaviour of our supposedly courageous men in uniform, who, sadly, and no more or less, are channelling barbarism", he said. "We have to turn out in droves in the face of these mercenaries", he said, referring to the security forces.

"Freedom of worship, guaranteed in every democratic state, was assailed, churches were desecrated and members of the faithful, including altar boys and priests, were physically assaulted", it said, demanding a "serious and objective investigation".

The police had banned the demonstrations and said that all gatherings of more than five people would be dispersed to ensure public order.

Catholics of Kinshasa's "Lay Coordinating Committee" had invited worshippers to walk, holding bibles, rosaries and crucifixes, after mass.

The poll has since been postponed until December 2018.

"These destabilising acts of agitation aim to create an atmosphere of insurrection which would enable them to seize power in our country by undemocratic means", he said, citing a government report.

  • Eleanor Harrison