KINSHASA (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas at crowds mounting a third day of protests in Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday against a proposed change to the law that the opposition says will delay elections by years and keep president Joseph Kabila in power.
The government says that at least 15 people have been killed in clashes, though civil society groups put the figure much higher. Fresh clashes erupted on Wednesday on the campus of the University of Kinshasa and were reported in three other areas of the teeming riverside capital.
In the central neighbourhood of Matete, a witness reported security forces firing live rounds at protesters, who had erected barricades of burning tyres in the streets and responded by hurling rocks.
The opposition called the protests on Monday in a bid to take control of parliament and stop pro-government legislators approving a reform of the electoral code that would require a census before the 2016 presidential vote.
The opposition says that would take years to organise such a national count.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said at least 11 people were killed in Tuesday’s violence, and four people on Monday. The opposition has said at least 13 people died on Monday.
Mende said security guards had killed 10 civilians who were trying to loot private property on Tuesday, and a police man also died.
He said the protests had not been political, but just an excuse for looting, particularly Chinese-owned businesses.
“We registered no demonstration near the parliament building … This was only pillage, extortion, destruction and vandalism,” he added.
Kabila came to power when his father was shot dead in 2001 and won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011. The constitution bars him from standing for a third term in next year’s ballot.
Kabila’s allies say a census could be completed within a year, but opponents argue that it will take far longer in a nation the size of Western Europe, which has little infrastructure and poor communications.
Foreign powers including France and the United States called on Tuesday for restraint and timely elections.
The proposed change to the electoral code, approved by the lower house of parliament on Saturday, is expected to be voted on by the Senate on Thursday.