June 30, 2005

At least two killed in Congo opposition protests

By David Lewis

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Security forces shot dead at least twodemonstrators in Congo's capital on Thursday as thousandsdemonstrated to demand the government's resignation overdelayed elections, a U.N. official said.

"For the moment it's at least 400 people arrested, about 20people injured and two people confirmed dead from policebullets," a U.N. official told Reuters.

The main opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress(UDPS), which led the protests, said 10 people had been killedin protests in Kinshasa, eight in the southern diamond-miningtown of Mbuji Mayi and six in the southwestern town ofTshikapa.

The opposition toll could not be independently confirmed. Aspokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mbuji Mayi saidthere were no protests there on Thursday.

In Kinshasa, the sprawling, dilapidated capital of a nationcrippled by one of Africa's deadliest conflicts, securityforces fired in the air and blasted tear gas at stone-throwingdemonstrators as army helicopters clattered overhead.

Fears had been running high that frustration among Congo's60 million people could boil over this week, the originaldeadline laid down for elections under a 2003 peace deal to enda five-year war that sucked in six neighboring states.

Despite two years of peace, the resource-rich nation thesize of Western Europe has seen little economic progress andthe government has failed to impose its authority over vastareas of the east, where armed gangs pillage and kill withimpunity.


Machinegun fire rang out in the eastern town of Goma, nearthe border with Rwanda, on Thursday afternoon, the UnitedNations and residents said.

A U.N. spokesman in Goma said two people were killed and 10injured in what appeared to be an internal military squabble.

Government wrangling, logistical delays and fighting in theeast were behind the election delay. Some Congolese alsosuspect politicians of procrastinating to keep the perks ofpower and the UDPS says President Joseph Kabila's governmentshould quit.

Some protesters had scrawled "One plus four equals zero" onKinshasa's rock-littered streets, a reference to Kabila and thefour vice presidents of the transitional government.

"The people were just trying to demonstrate peacefully butsoldiers came in and started firing," said Lysee Dimandja, amember of parliament. "This is a shame for our institutions. Itwill just antagonise the population."

Authorities had staged a show of force in Kinshasa lastweekend, sending heavily armed troops into the streets in thehopes of discouraging the planned protests.

"We are going to continue our actions," said Jean-BaptisteBomanza, a UDPS spokesman. "The power of those running thecountry ends at midnight tonight."

A doctor at one of Kinshasa's main hospitals said seveninjured civilians were being treated, including three women whohad been shot at home and a person who was bayoneted in thehead.

In Brussels, Congo's former colonial master, around 700demonstrators near the Congolese embassy threw street signs andother objects at police who forced them back with water cannon.

Congo's war killed around four million people, mainly fromconflict-related hunger and disease. The country's east isstill a hotbed of regional tensions, and Uganda warned thismonth that armed groups there were planning to attack itsterritory.

The United Nations has more than 16,000 troops in Congo,its biggest peacekeeping mission in the world.