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National Census Could Delay Elections in DRC Triggering Protests

NEW YORK , Jan 21 2015 (IPS) - (GIN) – Plans by President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to hold a national census of the population are inciting critics who say this could delay elections for years. A green light to the census plan by local lawmakers prompted a rock-throwing melee this week in the capital city. National elections are due in 2016.

On Monday, protestors objecting to the census plan were met by live rounds of ammunition and tear gas from security forces in Kinshasa, the capital city, according to witnesses. Opposition parties have been trying to block the move to enable Kabila to extend his stay in power beyond his current mandate which ends in 2016. Protests also erupted in Goma, the main city in eastern Congo.

Though the DRC Constitution demands the census, in 2006 when Kabila was elected for the first term, this Census was not taken. Neither was it taken during the 2011 election when he was re-elected for his second and last term.

Therefore, it is an open secret to everyone that this new bill requiring a census is just a plain and open ploy intended to allow Kabila to remain in power past his constitutional terms, observed Yaa-Lengi Ngemi, president of Congocoalition and an activist.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon weighed in on the growing crisis deploring the loss of lives and injuries and urged both the national security forces and demonstrators to show restraint. He reminded the DRC government that it was necessary to provide political space for the peaceful expression of opinions. “While violence is not acceptable,” he said, “the response to violent protests must also be proportionate.”

The bill to hold the census has already been approved by the lower house of Parliament and is due to be examined by the senate.

One protestor who spoke to the Reuters news agency likened the growing anti-Kabila movement to the one that swept out former President Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso. “We think the people are getting there little by little and we will replicate Burkina,” he said.

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

Kabila’s rivals say they fear heavy-handed police tactics, and crowds have in the past been easily dispersed. Ahead of Monday’s march, opposition leaders called on supporters to show more resistance and to fight back against police.

A witness in Matonge, a neighborhood near Parliament, said he saw police fire live rounds in the air in a bid to disperse people. Crowds later looted Chinese-owned shops in the area.

Last year, US officials met with Kabila and warned they would not support nor accept changes in the DRC constitution for him to stay on as president of the DRC. France, England and the EU have told him the same thing.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, Etienne Tshisekedi, opposition leader, urged the Congolese people to force a “dying regime” from power.

Tension over the election law comes as Congo’s army and United Nations peacekeepers are preparing to attack Rwandan Hutu rebels that have been at the heart of nearly two decades of conflict in the eastern border zones.

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