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Seven killed in demonstrations, hundreds arrested

7:00 PM

KINSHASA, 30 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - At least seven protestors were killed and hundreds more arrested in demonstrations on Thursday in various suburbs Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and in other urban areas.

The protests are against a delay in national elections which were to have been held before Thursday. Last week the parliament of the transitional government extended the election timetable by at least six months.

"A government made up of former belligerents [in the armed conflict in the DRC] is incapable of organising elections which it had promised to hold by 30 June 2005," said Tshibala Tshioma, a protestor and member of the opposition l'Union pour la democratie et le progres social (UDPS), the main political party which called the demonstration.

The UDPS says the leaders of former armed groups who are now among President Joseph Kabila four vice-presidents have no interest in ending the transition process.

"They are doing nothing but eating a lot of money while the population suffers," Tshioma said.

In a broadcast on state television on Wednesday, and in anticipation of the demonstrations, Kabila appealed to the nation for calm. He reiterated his determination to end the transitional process and let the population freely choose their leaders.

Voter registration for the elections began on 20 June but only in Kinshasa and donor countries are expressing concern that the process could drag on.

In Kinshasa on Thursday, some policemen beat up demonstrators and robbed them of their possessions. At least one person was killed and several injured when police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

In Tshikapa, a town 700 km southeast of Kinshasa in the province of Kasai Occidental, six demonstrators were killed, a witness said.

"The shots started right when we began protesting," Mulumba Mposhi, a local UDPS leader in Tshikapa, said. But these shots do not scare us from our goal of chasing out this government."

In Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, heavy weapons were fired during a demonstration there. The number of causalities is not yet known.

In Mbuji-Mayi, the capital of Kasai-Oriental, five people were killed in an exchange of gunfire between police and prisoners escaping from the local jail.

"Many of the people arrested during demonstrations two days earlier were in the prison," Amigo Gonde, president of the Kinshasa-based human rights NGO l'Association africaine des droits de l'homme, said on Thursday. "They were amongst criminals who are now profiting from the political violence."

So far, no government authority has confirmed that people have been killed, wounded and arrested.

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