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Violence erupts in DR Congo after protest ban is lifted

The protest comes after President Felix Tshisekedi lifted a health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

Demonstration erupts in DR Congo after protest ban is lifted www.africanstand.com
Demonstrators march in DR Congo’s capital Kinshasa, on July 23, 2020. (Twitter/willy_batusue)

(African Stand) — Thousands of demonstrators have marched in DR Congo’s capital Kinshasa against President Felix Tshisekedi, as officials in his fragile coalition government accused him of abusing power.

The protest comes two days after Tshisekedi lifted a health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, which rights groups accused the government of using as a pretext for curbing political demonstrations.

Tshisekedi, who took office in January last year, must govern in coalition with supporters of former president Joseph Kabila who have a commanding majority in parliament.

Kabila still wields huge behind-the-scenes influence in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country more than 18 months after standing down from the presidency.

His Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition said this week that Tshisekedi committed “dictatorial abuses” for appointments he made in the army and the judiciary.

“Kabila, come back quickly to restore order. (Tshisekedi) is incapable” of managing the country, protesters chanted under an FCC banner.

“The FCC is disturbed by the behaviour of its partner, who is not in line with the rules on which the coalition is based,” FCC spokesman Nehemiah Mwilanya, Kabila’s former chief of staff, told reporters.

Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga has publicly denounced a decision announced by the president last week to replace two influential figures: John Numbi, a close associate of Kabila and the army’s inspector general, and the president of the Constitutional Court Benoit Lwamba.

‘Mounting repression’

Lwamba’s departure comes as a government rift deepens over controversial judicial reforms which include proposals to define the powers of judges. Critics say it is a ploy to muzzle the judiciary in a country notorious for its instability.

“Do not be surprised if these orders are soon challenged by the National Assembly,” warned another FCC spokesman, Felix Kabange.

Three previous demonstrations this month, called by other political and social forces including Tshisekedi’s own party, the UDPS, had denounced the choice of a new election chief head who has been accused of rigging elections in favour of Kabila.

Those protests turned violent as security forces used tear gas to disperse protesters defying a ban on gatherings in several cities, and five people were killed in clashes between demonstrators and police.

Tshisekedi on Tuesday lifted a virus health emergency in place since March to allow all businesses to reopen, public transport to resume and for large gatherings to be permitted.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday accused the government of restricting freedoms on the pretext of fighting coronavirus, advising Tshisekedi to “reverse course and stop this mounting repression”.

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