- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - Congolese security forces shot at United Nations human rights monitors and used excessive force against anti-government protesters on Sunday, killing at least six people and injuring at least 68 others, the U.N. said Tuesday.

Catholic churches and activists had called for the nationwide demonstrations urging President Joseph Kabila to step down amid long-delayed elections. The protests turned violent as police tried to disperse the demonstrators using tear gas and, in some cases, reportedly live ammunition. Police arrested 121 people, the U.N. said.

Among those injured was a U.N. human rights officer who was kicked and punched by security forces in the capital, Kinshasa, while trying to conduct monitoring of the demonstrations, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva. The officer had been wearing a clearly marked U.N. vest with a human rights logo.

“He was in the right place at the right time. He was there to monitor the protests and the conduct of security forces in the context of the protests,” Shamdasani said. The U.N. team retreated after he was surrounded by Congolese military and police, but when they came back to continue monitoring they were shot at, she said. It was not clear whether live ammunition was used.

“If security forces are going to be so brazen as to even attack the U.N., then we are very concerned about the way that they’re going to be treating other protesters,” she said. “Military police also fired tear gas toward at least three U.N. patrols, thus restricting their movements.”

The U.N. is urging the government to investigate. Congo must respect the rights to freedom of religion, expression and peaceful assembly, Shamdasani said.

The violence prompted Pope Francis to appeal for peace in Congo.

In a similar protest on Dec. 31, police killed at least nine people and injured 98 others, according to new figures provided by the U.N.

The government shut down internet and text messaging services during both protests.

Kabila, whose mandate ended in December 2016, had agreed to hold elections by the end of 2017. But Congo’s election commission later said the vote cannot be held until December of this year.

Critics accuse Kabila of postponing elections to maintain his grip on power, while international observers have warned that Congo’s political tensions could further destabilize the impoverished country and the region at large. Kabila can remain in power until the next election is held, but he is barred by the Constitution from seeking another term.

“We are deeply concerned about what appears to be a recurring pattern of repression, including through the use of force, of demonstrations in the DRC in the context of rising political tensions,” Shamdasani said, referring to the country’s full name, the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Violent dispersal of protesters will not resolve the political tensions but will only serve to heighten them.”


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