CONGO – Police and opposition protestors clashed Monday in Goma, eastern Democratic of Republic of Congo, as demonstrators protested President Joseph Kabila's sustained grip on power and called for elections.
Protesters and several journalists were arrested in cities across the country after the youth movement Struggle for Change (Lucha) called for marches nationwide, police and witnesses said.
Around 40 people were held in the eastern city of Goma, 17 in the capital Kinshasa and around 10 each in three other cities, Butembo, Bukavu and Lubumbashi, police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu told AFP.
The chief of police has decided that all people arrested in the context of these illegal demonstrations across the country will be released," he added.
Several opposition coalitions and prominent figures had publicly backed the marches, timed to mark the July 31 date given by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to conclude a voter registration programme.'
In Goma, the regional capital of North Kivu province, bordering Rwanda, protesters threw stones and pulled up barricades as police fired tear gas at them, said police, an AFP journalist witnessed.
One group managed to force police lines to deliver a statement to the offices of CENI, Independent National Electoral Commission, before being arrested.
Further north at Butembo, 11 activists were "brutally arrested", a local priest told AFP.
And in Bukavu, the provincial capital of South Kivu, police used tear gas to break up a rally.
Police also detained two journalists from the private television channel Canal Futur, impounding their equipment. They were later released. A third journalist, from the local state TV station, was briefly held then released with his equipment.
Further west, in the capital Kinshasa, riot police were out in force in the city centre around the parliament, on foot and in motorised patrols, making seven arrests.
Political tension is rising steadily in DR Congo as the pressure mounts on Kabila, whose mandate expired on December 20 last year, to organise elections.
Under an agreement reached at the end of last year, Kabila was to hold them by the end of this year, under the aegis of the influential Roman Catholic church.
On July 7, however, CENI announced it would not be possible to organise elections in the vast and troubled country by the end of this year.