Protests in congo: stones, tear gas, gunfire

Riots break out over electoral reform. Congo’s parliament postpones the decision and prolongs the crisis.

A street in Goma. Photo: reuters

Gunshots can be heard. Protesting students, motorcyclists, young men gather around the university. The police rush in. They fire tear gas. But the crowd is not dispersed. Only when the dreaded presidential guard marches in and shoots into the air do the demonstrators run away.

Then they regroup in another district of the eastern Congolese city of Goma. Located on the outskirts of the city, Ndosho is a poor neighborhood without running water or electricity. Residents are fundamentally frustrated with the government. Young men throw stones at police officers until they run away. Then they set fire to the police station.

As a convoy of South African UN blue helmets drives along the road, they are pelted with stones. They shoot back. Two people die in the hail of bullets. Three more dead are later taken to the central hospital, as well as over a dozen seriously injured.

When the situation calms down on Thursday afternoon, Goma looks like a battlefield: Burnt tires color the streets black, the small market in the Virunga district is half burned down. Large angular lava stones lie everywhere on the streets – the remains of roadblocks. People are holed up in their houses. There is a smell of charred rubber and tear gas.

Mobilization unbroken

Mobilization against a controversial electoral reform also remains unbroken in other cities in Congo. In Bukavu, eastern Congo, a call for a general strike has been widely heeded.

At Mama Yemo Hospital in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, the presidential guard reportedly chased opposition members into the building and opened fire in hospital rooms. Human Rights Watch accused security forces of firing on unarmed protesters. Opposition sources early Thursday spoke of 138 people killed so far and more than 1,000 injured – figures that cannot be verified.

Diplomats have urged Congo’s government to withdraw the controversial bill that would require a census before the next elections in 2016, delaying the vote by years. The amendment has been in the Senate, the upper house of Congo’s parliament, since Tuesday.

At the opening of the crucial session on Thursday afternoon, Senate President Leon Kengo announced an adjournment.

Congo’s Senate will now reconvene on Friday, starting at 9 a.m. Security forces and demonstrators are also expected to be on hand on time.

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