Thousands of people took to the streets Monday in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were protesting a possible delay in elections, due by the end of June this year. The marchers were blocked by police using automatic rifles, tear gas and riot shields.
Just days after the head of Congo's election board announced a possible delay in the long anticipated polls, the residents of Kinshasa, Congo's sprawling run- down capital, took to the streets to vent their anger.
Several thousand protesters tried to organize marches into town to put pressure on Congo's politicians to hold the polls in June, as called for in a peace deal that ended the country's five-year war.
But they were met by police who were deployed overnight to prevent any demonstration from getting under way. Sporadic violence continued through the day as the crowds surged on police positions, set up barricades and burned tires in the streets.
The demonstrations paralyzed traffic into town and many roads, including all routes to the airport, were closed.
The police responded with tear gas and riot batons. But, vastly outnumbered, they often had to resort to firing live rounds into the air to disperse advancing crowds and there have been unconfirmed reports of deaths amongst the protesters.
The chief of elections, Father Apollinaire Malu Malu, said Friday that the June deadline may not be realistic. But the protesters believe Congo's sixty million people have suffered enough, and it is time to hold free and fair elections in the vast mineral rich country.
It is hoped that the elections will establish stability after a war estimated to have killed an estimated three million people since 1998, mainly through hunger and disease. Much of the fighting has stopped and the former belligerents have joined the government in Kinshasa.
But the factions are still deeply divided and preparations for the polls have been slow, casting doubt on the June deadline.
In a further sign of problems within the government, the MLC (Mouvement de liberation congolaise), a former Ugandan backed rebel group now in the government, accused close associates of President Joseph Kabila of blocking the workings of the government and placed strict conditions on their attendance of the next government meeting.