Multiple deaths as Congolese government cracks down on pro-democracy protests

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Friday, July 1, 2005

Protesters in Congo
Protesters in Congo

Thousands of protesters are marching through the streets of Kinshasa demanding that the government resign over delayed elections.

Kinshasa - a city with nine million residents - is the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They were met by security forces who shot in the air and threw tear-gas grenades at the protesters. Army helicopters flew overhead as protestors threw stones at soldiers.

The UN in Congo have said that four people may have been killed in Kinshasa, but that is not yet confirmed. A journalist in the area saw bruised and bandaged protestors who said they had been beaten by police, and a local TV station broadcast images of a protester who they said had been shot dead. The station was raided shortly afterwards by police.

Another six people were killed in Tshikapa, a town 700 km southeast of Kinshasa. In another province, heavy weapons were fired at protesters. Casualties are as yet unknown. The Congolese government has declined to confirm or deny any casualty figures.

Unrest has been growing among the 60 million residents in Congo - a former Belgian colony - over delays to the first democratic elections to be held for forty years. The elections - which should have been held before last Thursday - were agreed upon as part of a peace treaty that ended a five year civil war in 2003 - a war that had seen the deaths of four million people.

The current President made a television address to the nation the night before the deadline appealing for calm and re-iterating his desire to see elections.

Protest organisers say the people were just peacefully demonstrating their desire to see the interm government resign, but were attacked without provocation by security forces. The government had recently announced another six month delay before elections could take place.