After 42 deaths, in new twist DR Congo okays law allowing 2016 election as protestors declare 'victory'

Authorities restored Internet access in Kinshasa, 48 hours after they ordered it cut off as the unrest flared.

THE DR Congo Senate has amended a controversial census bill following four days of  violent nationwide deadly clashes between protesters and police.

The new version, to be approved by the lower house, removes the requirement to hold a census before the next election.
The opposition had said this was a way for President Joseph Kabila to extend his time in office rather than stand down next year as planned, because the census could have taken as long as three years - during which time he would have remained president. 

Throngs of students took to the streets to celebrate the news, declaring “victory”.

“We have listened to the street. That is why the vote today is a historic vote,” Senate President Leon Kenga Wa Dondo said after the amendment was passed.

The BBC reporter in Kinshasa, noted that that it is uncommon for the senate to vote against the government in this way - the last time being 2010.

On Thursday Senate delayed the vote to Friday, a decision that came with fresh violence in the east and tensions still running high in the capital Kinshasa where rights groups say as many as 42 people have been killed this week.

The opposition had risen up in protest against what they have branded a “constitutional coup d’etat”. 

The bill now goes to the lower house. 

Kinshasa was largely calm on Thursday, although there was a large police presence around the parliament and the city’s flashpoint university.

But police opened fire on protesters in Goma, the main city in the mineral-rich east, and used tear gas to repel rock-hurling youths building street barricades, an AFP correspondent said.

The mayor of Goma—which lies about 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) from the capital—also announced that all schools would be closed until Monday in order “to ensure that calm has returned”.

The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) said 42 people had been killed and dozens wounded since Monday in the protests in Kinshasa, a teeming tropical city of nine million people.

“As has unfortunately become a frequent occurrence in the DRC, the security forces have again demonstrated a totally excessive and disproportionate reaction by firing live ammunition on protesters,” it said in a statement.

The government, however, angrily challenged the figures, saying 12 people had died, while a Congolese rights group put the number of dead at 28.

‘Stop killing people’ 

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the 12 dead included one policeman killed by an “unknown” assailant and accused FIDH of being “manipulated” by an exiled Congolese group.

He described most of the dead as “looters” who had been killed by private security guards defending businesses.

Mende had said on Wednesday that about 340 “rioters” had been arrested.

Authorities also restored Internet access in Kinshasa on Thursday, 48 hours after they ordered it cut off as the unrest flared. However, 3G mobile communications and text messaging remained unavailable.

On Wednesday, the popular leader of the Catholic Church had weighed into the turmoil in the giant central African nation, giving his backing to protesters.

“We denounce these actions which have caused death and we are launching this plea: stop killing your people,” Archbishop Laurent Monswengo said.

The United States has joined the European Union in voicing concern over the rising violence, calling for restraint and backing elections in line “with the constitution.”

‘Dying’ regime 

Kabila’s opponents believe he wants to prolong his mandate by making presidential and parliamentary elections contingent on a new electoral roll, after a census across the vast country set to begin this year.

The government has acknowledged that the census could delay elections due at the end of 2016, but regional analysts and diplomats have estimated the process could take up to three years.

Speaking from Belgium on Tuesday, DR Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi called on the Congolese people to force a “dying regime” from power.

The unrest is the latest upheaval to rock the former Zaire which has been plagued by wars and weakened by decades of misrule.

Kabila, now 43, came to power in January 2001 when politicians rushed to make the young soldier head of state after the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila.

Many African presidents have tried, and often succeeded, to stay in power by rewriting their countries’ constitutions to get rid of limits on presidential terms.

Last year, Burkina Faso’s president Blaise Compaore was chased from power when he tried to change the constitution to extend his mandate.

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