Congo threatens to punish those behind anti-Kabila riots

September 21, 2016 10:26 AM EDT

Congolese opposition supporters chant slogans as they destroy the billboard of President Joseph Kabila during a march to press the President to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe


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By Benoit Nyemba and Amedee Mwarabu

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congo's government vowed on Wednesday to hunt down and punish those responsible for riots in which around three dozen people were killed, as small pockets of protest continued in the capital, Kinshasa.

Anti-government protesters gathered in parts of Kinshasa on Wednesday, but normal life resumed in most of the capital after two days of deadly riots, residents and witnesses said. The army was dispatched to parts of the city where tensions persisted.

"The Congolese national police are actively seeking out the ... authors of these grave acts of murder and plunder," Attorney General Flory Kabange Numbi told reporters in Kinshasa. He also said migration officials would prevent those responsible from leaving the country.

Congo has for months suffered simmering anger over what opponents of President Joseph Kabila believe are his efforts to hold on to power beyond his constitutional term limit, either by delaying elections or revising the constitution, as other African leaders have done.

The protests on Monday escalated into violent clashes between demonstrators and police, leaving at least 37 protesters and six policemen dead, Human Rights Watch said. The official death toll given by the police on Wednesday was 32, of whom four were police officers.

However, Etienne Tshisekedi, among Congo's main opposition leaders, told Belgian television that around 100 people had died.

The office of Kabila, who has been abroad during the unrest attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, issued its first statement on Wednesday condemning the violence and offering its condolences to victims' families.

Kabila "makes a call for calm and invites the entire population to go about their daily activities now that security is again fully ensured," said the statement read on state-owned television.

On Wednesday morning, angry youths burned tires in one district as police fired warning shots, a resident said, and the army sent trucks carrying around 50 troops to a university campus to prevent any further demonstrations.

Kabila is ineligible to stand in the next election after serving two elected terms. Last week, the election commission petitioned the Constitutional Court to postpone the November poll. His supporters deny he is trying to prolong his rule.

World powers have become increasingly exasperated with Kabila's administration. French President Francois Hollande has blamed the state for the violence and called upon the government to respect the constitution.

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday called on Congolese authorities to exercise maximum restraint and urged the country's leaders not to exacerbate the situation.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region said on Tuesday that it was ready to impose additional targeted sanctions on individuals who have been involved in abuses or violence.

Washington imposed sanctions on a senior police official in June for his role in what it described as the violent suppression of the country's opposition.

Exiled opposition leader Moise Katumbi on Wednesday urged new sanctions against security officials responsible for the deaths of protesters this week.

"Without sanctions, they will continue killing people like mosquitoes," he said.

(Additional reporting by Kenny Katombe in Kinshasa, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Jonathan Landay in Washington and Joe Bavier in Abidjan; writing by Nellie Peyton, editing by G Crosse)



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