DR Congo unrest: Kinshasa Catholic schools shut

BBC

Demonstrators burn tyres to set up barricades during a protest in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa on 20 January 2015 The opposition accuses the president of trying to stage a "constitutional coup"
Demonstrators burn tyres to set up barricades during a protest in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa on 20 January 2015 The opposition accuses the president of trying to stage a “constitutional coup”

The Roman Catholic Church has shut its schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, as protests against President Joseph Kabila continue for a third day.

Church head Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya called on people to peacefully oppose government moves to delay presidential elections until a census is held.

The highly influential Catholic Church runs many schools in the country.

At least 11 people have so far been been killed in the protests.

Demonstrators say government plans for a census are a ploy to delay next year’s elections so that Mr Kabila can hang on to power.

Mr Kabila, who has won two disputed elections, is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.

The government admits the election could be delayed, but says the census is vital to ensure polls are free and fair.

The Catholic Church is the largest religious group in DR Congo, and its intervention on the side of the opposition is significant, correspondents say.

Schools in Kinshasa would remain shut until Monday, Cardinal Pasinya said.

Shots rang out as protests continued in the city on Wednesday, AFP news agency reports.

The security forces had sealed off the government-run University of Kinshasa, the focal point of protests, correspondents say.

Kinshasa has a population of more than nine million, and is seen as an opposition stronghold.

Democratic Republic of Congo protesters block a street in Kinshasa, on 19 January 2015 The protesters have vowed to force Mr Kabila to step down next year

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the 11 dead included a policeman shot by a sniper and 10 civilians killed by security guards while attempting to loot private properties.

He said 22 people had been wounded, most of them policemen.

Opposition leader Vital Kamerhe disputed the government ‘s figures, saying 28 protesters had been killed – eight on Tuesday and 20 on Monday.

The protests coincided with a debate in the Senate, the upper parliamentary chamber, over government plans to hold a census before elections.

Most senators, including members of the governing party, said they were opposed to the plan because it risked destabilizing the country.

The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, approved the plan on Saturday, in a vote boycotted by opposition MPs.

The opposition says this amounts to a “constitutional coup” by Mr Kabila, as it will take about three years for a census to be conducted in DR Congo, which is two-thirds of the size of western Europe, has very little infrastructure and is hit by instability in the east.

DR Congo, formerly known as Zaire, has never had a reliable census since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Mr Kabila took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila.

DR Congo is rich in natural resources, but most people are poor.