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Police Open Fire on Crowd Protesting Election Law Change

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VOA News - January 19, 2015
Protesters against the new electoral law burn tires in Kinshasa on 1.19.2015
Protesters against the new electoral law burn tires in Kinshasa on 1.19.2015 | Enlarge
At least one person was injured when security forces fired live rounds and tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital on Monday as opposition parties tried to block a change in the law that may delay elections due in 2016.

Demonstrators are angry about a revised election law that requires a national census be carried out before elections. Such a move could delay the polls by up to three years and allow President Joseph Kabila to remain in office past the end of his term late next year.

The legislation, approved Saturday by the lower house of parliament, was due to go for debate before the Senate, the upper house of parliament, on Monday.

Police in riot gear and armed presidential guards were stationed at every major road junction in the Gombe district, where ministries and administrative buildings are located, in Kinshasa.

In Kinshasa, at least one protester near the University of Kinshasa in the south of the capital was injured after a police officer warned his men would shoot if protestors failed to leave. Several witnesses told the French news agency AFP that a second youth was also injured by gunfire.

Burkina Faso comparison

“We demand that Kabila leaves,” protester Jean-Paul Beya told Reuters. “We think the people are getting there little by little and we will replicate Burkina,” he said, referring to Burkina Faso, where Blaise Compaore was forced to stand aside as president late last year by rallies against a bid to stay in power.

Opposition parties said their leaders, who had called on followers to occupy parliament, were unable to join the protests as their offices were surrounded by security forces.

Critics call the reform a “constitutional coup” but the government says the census is a necessary part of the electoral process in the vast, mineral-rich country of 65 million people.

Kabila has ruled over the vast and troubled central African country since he was catapulted into office as a young soldier by Kinshasa politicians in 2001, days after his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was president at the time, was assassinated.

In 2006, Kabila won the first free, democratic presidential poll since independence from Belgium in 1960. He was re-elected in 2011.

Elsewhere, police also fired on more than 1,000 demonstrators on Monday after protests erupted in Goma, the main city in eastern Congo.

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