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The authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) must show restraint in their handling of protests to ensure that they do not inflame tensions in the country, and conduct thorough, prompt, impartial and transparent investigations into killings and violence that took place at opposition rallies in Kinshasa yesterday, Amnesty International said today.

The government has said 17 people, including three police officers, were killed at rallies held to demand that the electoral commission announce the date of the next presidential election, while the opposition parties put the death toll at more than 50 protesters. Credible civil society reports mention 25 deaths, including the three police officers.

“Yesterday’s unlawful killings are just the latest example of the worrying crackdown on the opposition since it became apparent that presidential elections might not be held on time. The authorities must ensure that those suspected of being responsible are brought to justice,” said Christian Rumu, Amnesty International’s Country Campaigner for the DRC. 

“Confronting people exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly with excessive force fans the flames of unrest. The DRC authorities must take immediate steps to halt this escalating tension, and all parties must refrain from violence.”

Fourteen people also suffered bullet wounds during the protests, and fires broke out at the offices of three opposition political parties in Kinshasa this morning.

Amnesty International warned in its latest report on the DRC that the authorities’ mounting crackdown on the right to freedom of expression could trigger violence in an already tense political climate.

Background

Yesterday was the constitutional deadline for the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to announce the date for presidential elections.

The opposition parties want elections to be held so that President Joseph Kabila can be replaced when his second term ends on 19 December, but the electoral commission has failed to call the election, citing lack of funds and insufficient time to update the voting register.

The constitutional court ruled in May that the incumbent can legally remain in office until his successor is in place, a ruling the opposition rejects.

A process called by the government to resolve the impasse, known as the National Dialogue, has been rejected by opposition groups who say it is a ploy to extend Kabila’s stay in power.