Eight people were killed and more than 120 were arrested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during church-organised protests held Sunday calling for President Joseph Kabila to step down.
The dead were killed by security forces. Seven were in the capital, Kinshasa, and one was in Kananga.
The country’s bishops have asked that Kabila not seek a third term as president. He has been in power since 2001. His two-term limit expired in December 2016, but he has refused to step down and has not allowed elections to be held.
The Church played a crucial role as mediator in negotiations that led to an agreement reached at the end of 2016 that Kabila would step down following elections to be held in 2017. Those elections were not held, and have now been delayed at least another year.
Catholic churches, as well as Protestant, had called for peaceful marches to be held to protest the delay of elections. Permission for marches was denied in Kinshasa, and police fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas into churches to prevent would-be protesters for gathering.
Text messaging and internet services were ordered to be shut down for “reasons of state security”, the New York Times reported.
St Michael’s parish in Kinshasa was forced to close when tear gas was fired into the sanctuary, and at the city’s St Joseph’s parish, 12 altar boys were arrested.
Observers have expressed concern that Kabila intends to stay in office, citing similar political patterns of other countries in the region.
“The fact of the matter is, he has no good exit plan, so he has little interest in respecting this agreement,” said Jason Stearns, the director of the Congo Research Group, according to the New York Times.
Neighboring countries like Rwanda and Burundi have seen similar political tactics, and, in 2015, the countries were able to extend the presidential limit to three-terms.
The bishops’ conference has repeatedly called upon the officials of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to uphold the agreement, emphasising the likelihood of social turmoil in response to the president’s maintenance of power.
The country’s eastern regions are in the midst of armed conflict, with millions forced from their homes, and priests and religious facing abduction and other forms of violence.