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Sun Sep 25 05:43:32 CAT 2016

DRC heading for free-fall into violence, warns UN

AFP | 23 September, 2016 07:51
Congolese civilians walk past a house and vehicles which were burnt during anti-government protests to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 21, 2016.
Image by: KENNY KATOMBE / REUTERS

The UN human rights chief said yesterday that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had used "excessive force" in deadly clashes with protesters and called on Kinshasa to reach out to the opposition to avert a "large-scale crisis".

"The authorities need to pull back from their extremely confrontational position and build bridges with the opposition," Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in Geneva in the wake of confrontations between security forces and opposition protesters in Kinshasa on Monday and Tuesday.

Zeid said the violence - marked by many civilian deaths, large-scale looting and the destruction of government and opposition premises - "provides a stark warning that a large-scale crisis could be around the corner. The writing is on the wall."

On Wednesday police said 32 people had been killed in the violence; the opposition reported "more than 100 dead", some of them burned alive. Zeid's office put the toll at 50, with four police officers among the dead.

Opposition groups had organised demonstrations on Monday to demand the resignation of President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled since 2001 and is barred by the constitution from another term.

Although Kabila's term ends on December 20, no date for elections has been announced and there are fears that Kabila plans to hang onto power.

"Some civilians were killed by gunshots to the head or chest," Zeid said. "I strongly condemn the clearly excessive use of force by defence and security forces."

He called on the government to withdraw the Republican Guard - a military unit under the direct control of the head of state - from the Kinshasa streets and to instead deploy "properly trained police with equipment appropriate for crowd control".

Police spokesman Pierre-Rombaut Mwana-Mputu said: "The national police were backed by [the army] to stop the looting and vandalism."

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