(GIN) – Troops of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) under President Joseph Kabila stormed Catholic churches and attacked worshippers who had gathered to demand that the president keep his promise and step down as required by the constitution.
Security forces fired tear gas into churches and bullets in the air to break up the gatherings at Catholic masses. Some 12 altar boys leading a protest in Kinshasa were reportedly arrested, according to the French news service AFP.
Internet links were also down as church and opposition groups defied a ban by authorities to push ahead with the demonstrations.
Catholic churches and activists had called for peaceful protests to mark a year since an accord was signed to set a new election date, free political prisoners and ease tensions, saying the terms of the deal have not been met.
Government banned the planned protest, but the church said it will defy it. The protest has the backing of major opposition parties, civil society and youth movements.
About 150 Catholic churches had urged believers to heed their call to protest, bibles and crucifixes in hand to demand implementation of a deal signed exactly a year ago and designed to restore stability with Kabila stepping down.
March spokeswoman Leonie Kandolo insisted that “lay people will march today (and) the city authority and the police must fulfil their role of protecting people and property.”
“Eight deaths — seven in Kinshasa and one in Kananga,” in central Democratic Republic of Congo, a source told the French new service, adding there had been “82 arrests, including priests, in the capital and 41 in the rest of the country.”
The crackdown follows a statement by U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric urging the DRC president to step down and abide by an earlier agreement to hold elections.
“The Secretary-General urges all Congolese political actors to remain full committed to the Dec. 31, 2016 political agreement which remains the only viable path to the holding of elections, the peaceful transfer of power and the consolidation of stability in the DRC,” Dujarric said late Sunday.
“We are telling everybody, all over the world, this guy has to go,” Martin Fayulu, an opposition leader, told al Jazeera on Sunday. “This guy doesn’t like Congo. This guy has nothing to do with Congo and his time is up.”
Kabila, 46, has ruled the DRC for 17 years and has remained in office, even though his second term officially expired in December 2016. The next elections are scheduled to take place before June 2018, but even with this latest delay it’s “rather unlikely” that Kabila will let them go ahead. w/pix of Catholic parishoner running for cover