Congo president calls for calm after bloody street clashes
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KINSHASA, Congo — The office of Congo President Joseph Kabila on Wednesday appealed for calm after two days of street clashes that left dozens dead, while accusing organizers of anti-government protests of trying to incite "bloody riots."
In a statement released Wednesday night, Kabila's office said he was "profoundly touched by these sad events" and expressed condolences to the families of those killed.
Thousands took to the streets of Congo's capital, Kinshasa, on Monday to oppose an election delay that some call a plot by Kabila to stay in power after his mandate expires in December. Earlier on Wednesday, police spokesman Col. Pierrot Mwanamputu told reporters the official death toll was 32, including four police officers, though opposition leaders have said the figure is higher.
While officials have tried to minimize government responsibility for this week's casualties, rights activists and government critics have placed blame on security forces. In an email Tuesday, Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, said "most were killed when the security forces fired on crowds of protesters."
Mwanamputu said 114 people had been arrested and that officials were determined to round up all those responsible for violence and looting.
"Investigations will spare no one. If police or soldiers violated ethics or the law, measures will be taken," Mwanamputu said.
Kabila's political future has been a source of tension in Congo for well over a year. The president, who came to power after his father's assassination in 2001, has yet to announce whether he will pursue another term in office, though the constitution prohibits it.
The electoral commission has filed for a delay of the presidential vote, originally scheduled for November, saying voter registration lists will not be ready. A high court has determined Kabila can stay in office until a new leader is elected.