One dead as Congo police break up banned marches

KINSHASA (AFP) – A protester died after being shot at a march in the eastern city of Goma in the DR Congo last Sunday as police dispersed hundreds of anti-government protesters in Kinshasa.

A day earlier, President Felix Tshisekedi warned that some protesters did know the difference between democracy and anarchy, but vowed there would be no repression.

Police and organisers said the man was shot at a banned march in Goma that had been called to mark the 59th anniversary of the central African country’s independence from Belgium.

“One person seriously wounded by gunshot died in hospital,” national police spokesman Pierrot Mwanamputu told AFP, while an opposition youth official said, “They fired real bullets.”

Mwanamputu said a policeman was wounded in the Goma unrest adding there was “resistance” to police efforts to disperse the marchers.

Provincial police commissioner Placide Nyembo told AFP some of the demonstrators were armed.

Former candidate of the Lamuka opposition coalition, Martin Fayulu greets the crowd of supporters while his convoy is slowed down by the police during a protest march organised on the Independence Day in Kinshasa. – AFP

An opposition youth official, Robert Zibawanza, said some activists had torched a commuter minibus.

In the capital Kinshasa, on the other side of the country, police used tear gas to break up another banned march. About 50 officers blocked a car carrying former presidential candidate Martin Fayulu and former prime minister Adolphe Muzito.

An AFP journalist saw police using bayonets to puncture three of the car’s tyres.

The two men got out of the car to talk to Kinshasa police chief Sylvano Kasongo as demonstrators massed around them.

There were scuffles between police and protesters as the officers moved in to broke up the demonstration.

Kinshasa police chief Kasongo said one of his officers had been “seriously wounded” and that the person responsible had been detained.

Last Saturday, Tshisekedi said he backed a decision to ban the march planned by his former opposition comrades, pointing to violence that had broken out last weekend.

Speaking in his first major interview since taking office early this year, Tshisekedi – son of opposition icon Etienne Tshisekedi – told French media, “We have the impression that there are some who confuse democracy with anarchy.”

He vowed there would be “no repression”, adding, “The security forces are trained to keep the peace.”

Recently, as opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba flew back into the country, police fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters who targetted his convoy.

Before being elected President, Tshisekedi inherited the mantle of opposition leader from his father Etienne, who died in February 2017.

Last Sunday’s march was called by Bemba and Fayulu, who maintains he was robbed of victory in the country’s December 30 presidential election.

Their Lamuka coalition had vowed to go ahead with the march to protest the constitutional court’s invalidation of the election of about 20 opposition lawmakers.

Kasongo for his part had warned that any gatherings of more than 10 people would be dispersed.

Last Sunday, he said there had been “no major incidents” in Kinshasa where “all those arrested were immediately released” – apart from the one who attacked the police officer.

In the western province of Bandudu, four to six civilians were wounded by live rounds fired by police, several sources said, and a police officer was also reportedly injured. Bandudu is a stronghold of both Fayulu and Muzito.

Fayulu, 62, accused Tshisekedi of being the “puppet” of his predecessor Joseph Kabila, whose party enjoys a majority in Parliament.

A former vice president, Bemba ran unsuccessfully for the presidency against Kabila in 2006.

He was then jailed by the International Criminal Court based in The Hague for alleged atrocities carried out by his troops in the Central African Republic.