KINSHASA - The mood is tense in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, following a day and night of deadly violence involving security forces and anti-government protesters. A human rights group reports more than 40 people have been killed, most of them civilians.
There were sporadic clashes between police and groups of young men early Tuesday in some parts of the capital. Unusually for Kinshasa, trucks full of soldiers from the Republican Guard were out on the streets.
Heavier violence took place overnight, as armed men set fire to at least five headquarters of opposition parties that helped to organize protests Monday. Several pro-government parties saw their offices burned down during those protests.
Felix Tshisekedi, a leading figure in the largest opposition party, the UDPS, spoke to reporters Tuesday as people picked through the remains of his headquarters in Limete, an opposition stronghold.
Tshisekedi says commandos from the ruling party camp arrived at 2 a.m. and went to work until 4.30 a.m. They attacked and killed our guards, he says. There are five dead. Tshisekedi went on to say that the DRC is a dictatorship and he says this government deserves the popular revolt that is coming to topple it.
He later told VOA by phone that the death toll from the overnight attack has risen to seven and others are still missing.
Emery Okundji, a parliamentarian from another party targeted during the night, told VOA that heavily armed men smashed down the door just before 5 a.m. and threw bombs, setting fire to the building.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende told VOA by phone that the government has called on the public prosecutor to expand his investigation into Monday’s unrest to include the violence overnight.
We do not know who is responsible for these attacks, Mende said, but as a government we condemn anyone who takes it upon themselves to seek vengeance. He said the government will wait for the prosecutor to finish the inquiry into who is responsible for the violence.
The opposition coalition known as the Rassemblement, or the Assembly, had organized a march Monday to demand that President Joseph Kabila step down in December when his second term ends.
The electoral commission has delayed the elections, saying it may need until 2018 to create a new voter roll. The opposition asserts that Kabila simply wants to stay in power.
Opposition leaders say security forces obstructed their planned march on Monday, firing tear gas to disperse protesters as they gathered. The government says it had withdrawn authorization for the demonstration after violence from protesters.
The interior minister said 17 people were killed – three policemen and 14 civilians.
But, Human Rights Watch says it has received "credible reports" that security forces have killed at least 37 people since the protests began.
The group's DRC researcher, Ida Sawyer, told VOA that most were killed when the security forces fired on crowds of protesters. She says others died when security forces burned down opposition party headquarters.
Sawyer says HRW also received credible reports that protesters have killed at least six police officers and a supporter of Kabila's party, and have also burned and looted several shops and police stations.