Smaller protests continue in Congo amid heavy army presence

KINSHASA: Small pockets of anti-government protesters gathered in spots across Kinshasa on Wednesday, defying a heavy military presence, but elsewhere in the capital normal life resumed after two days of riots in which 44 people died, residents and witnesses said.

In one district, angry youths burned tires as police fired warning shots, a resident said, and the army sent trucks carrying around 50 troops to a university campus where a riot broke out the day before, according to a Reuters witness.

The protests began on Monday and escalated into violent clashes between demonstrators and police. According to Human Rights Watch, 44 people died in the violence, but the government said the death toll stood at 17.

Neither the government spokesman nor the police could be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The country has for months suffered simmering anger over what opponents of Congolese President Joseph Kabila believe are his efforts to hold on to power beyond his constitutional term limit, either by delaying elections or changing the constitution, as other African leaders have done.

Kabila is ineligible to stand in the next election after serving two elected terms. Last week, the election commission formally petitioned the Constitutional Court to postpone the November presidential election. The commission has said it could be delayed by a year or longer, which has infuriated the opposition.

Kabila's supporters deny he is trying to prolong his stay in power.

World powers have become increasingly exasperated with Kabila's administration. French President Francois Hollande has said the clashes were caused "by the Congolese state itself," and urged authorities to respect the constitution and hold elections on schedule.

Tom Perriello, US Special Envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region, warned on Tuesday the United States was "ready to impose additional targeted sanctions on individuals who have been involved in abuses or violence."

The US government imposed sanctions on a senior police official in the Democratic Republic of Congo in June for his role in what it described as the violent suppression of opposition to Kabila's government.

A senior advisor to Kabila who last week conducted what he called a "pleading mission" to the United States to press officials not to impose further sanctions, told reporters in New York on Tuesday that a national political dialogue to solve the stand-off would continue.

"It is our hope that a consensus can be reached soon to set a date for (the) elections," Barnabe Kikaya said.