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Police impose curfew on Mbuji-Mayi after protests

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KINSHASA, 18 May 2005 (IRIN) - Police imposed a curfew beginning late Tuesday in Mbuji-Mayi, a major mining town in central Democratic Republic of Congo, following violent demonstrations in which at least two people died and 12 others were wounded.

The provincial police inspector-general, Gen Jean Dieudonne Oleko, told IRIN on Wednesday that the "restriction of movement", as he termed the curfew, would deter vandalism and children from venturing out at night.

"The police has complete control of the situation," he said.

However, he did not say how long the curfew would last. The curfew runs from midnight to 1800 (1700 GMT).

He said the dead were civilians while seven of the wounded were policemen. The deaths occurred on Tuesday when police arrived to disperse the demonstrators.

"The police officers were wounded when demonstrators threw projectiles. Two of the civilian died from stray bullets when some demonstrators tried to seize rifles from police officers," Oleko said.

The people were demonstrating against an extension of the political transitional period, designed to return the country to democracy. The extension was announced on Monday following the adoption of the country's post-war constitution. Initially, Congo's transition was to have ended in June, but the agreement under which it was formed allowed for two extensions of six months each.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila said on Monday the electoral process would be completed in June 2005, taking up the two extensions provided in the agreement signed by Congolese parties and former rebel movements in April 2003 in Pretoria, South Africa.

The Mbuji-Mayi demonstrators were also calling for an end to political formula that gave the Congo one president and four vice-presidents.

Oleko said riot police intervened after the demonstrators ransacked and then burnt the offices of three political parties: the Parti du peuple pour la reconstrcution et le developpement; the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo; and the Rassemblement Congolais pour la democratie-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation.

Other than the curfew and police patrols, the city's authorities have closed a radio station, Radio-tele debout Kasai, which they accused of broadcasting unsigned leaflets dumped in several towns across the country.

These leaflets call on the public to demonstrate and organise "dead city" days: days on which everyone is asked to remain off the streets, out of offices and places of business.

At the head of the demonstrators were supporters of veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi, who heads the Union pour la Democratie et Social party (UPDS).

"There has been a wave of arrests of our representatives in Matadi, in Bas-Congo Province; in Mbuji-Mayi, and other cities because we have called on the public to demonstrate," Raoul Nsolwa, the UDPS national secretary for the youth, told IRIN.

By early Wednesday, police had cleared only some of the town's major streets of barricades.

Demonstrations also took place early Wednesday in Kananga, the main town of Kasai Occidental Province.


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