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DRC Senate Changes Controversial Electoral Bill

  • VOA News

Stores remain closed early Jan. 22, 2015 in Kinshasa on the fourth day of violent protests against President Joseph Kabila.

Stores remain closed early Jan. 22, 2015 in Kinshasa on the fourth day of violent protests against President Joseph Kabila.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's Senate has revised an electoral bill that triggered violent protests in which at least a dozen people were killed.

Opponents said an earlier version of the bill, passed by the lower house of parliament, would allow President Joseph Kabila to stay in office for years by postponing elections until a national census was completed.

The Senate bill, unveiled Friday, excludes the census requirement and says efforts to update the voter list must respect constitutional deadlines for elections. Lawmakers will now try to reconcile the two versions before an expected final vote next week.

Protests against the bill that began on Monday in Kinshasa spread to Goma and other cities. A human rights group says up to 42 people were killed when police opened fire to disperse demonstrators.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende says 12 people were killed, including a policeman. In an interview with VOA, Mende said police were acting to stop violence and looting. He also said that President Kabila has stated repeatedly that the constitution will be respected.

The president's term is due to end next year. He is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election after winning polls in 2006 and 2011.

Critics of the clause linking elections to a census say counting Congo's people would take two years or more because of a lack of paved roads and chronic unrest in the northeast.

Kabila first came to power in Congo after his father, Laurent Kabila, was killed in 2001.

The United States and United Nations have expressed concern about this week's unrest. In a statement Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both security forces and demonstrators "to refrain from further violence and exercise maximum restraint."

The U.N. chief called for election-related matters to be "discussed in an inclusive and peaceful fashion."

Efforts by African presidents to extend their stays in office have met increasing resistance from opponents. Burkina Faso's longtime president Blaise Compaore was forced to resign in October after an attempt to change constitutional term limits sparked violent protests.

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