, KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sep 21 – Police in DR Congo said 32 people had been killed during two days of clashes in the capital Kinshasa this week, while the opposition said more than three times that number had died.
The wildly divergent figures were released as security forces brought the wave of violence and looting to an end.
Clashes between police and opponents of President Joseph Kabila on Monday and Tuesday saw people burned alive, and attacks on police positions, but the worst unrest in the capital since January 2015 appeared to have fizzled out on Wednesday.
“The national police was backed by members of the (army) to stop the acts of looting and vandalism,” police spokesman Pierre-Rombaut Mwana-Mputu told reporters.
Traffic in the capital was lighter than usual on Wednesday and many schoolchildren remained at home. But residents were back on the streets, some inspecting shops and other buildings that were pillaged or gutted by fires.
The official death toll is far below the figure of over 100 given by the opposition, but broadly in line with the number given by Human Rights Watch, which put the toll at 37.
The UN, which has deployed its biggest peacekeeping force in DR Congo, mostly in the troubled east, was cautious about the figures.
“There are many people who were killed,” Jose Maria Aranaz, who heads the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO), told reporters, indicating that his organisation would give a toll after a long audit.
The UN Security Council Wednesday called for calm and pressed for “credible elections” to be held.
Opposition groups had organised demonstrations on Monday to demand the resignation of Kabila, who has ruled since 2001 and, under the constitution, should step down on December 20.
Both sides traded blame for the violence that erupted.
In a statement, the presidency accused the opposition of having transformed the event into “bloody riots” while a spokesman for the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Bruno Tshibala, described the unrest as a “fire” planned by a “bloodthirsty power”.
Kabila is yet to call elections, fanning fears he plans to stay in power despite pressure to step aside from his domestic political opponents, as well as the United Nations and Western powers.
– ‘Anger made people loot’ –
As shops and petrol stations reopened for business on Wednesday, there was anger as well as relief that the violence appeared to have ended — even if the underlying political tensions remain.
“What happened yesterday and the day before was awful,” said Christian, 21, speaking outside a looted mobile phone shop in the southern Ndjili district.
“I’m not against people standing up for their rights but what I don’t like is rioting and looting,” he said, adding that companies offering rare work opportunities to the largely unemployed population had been targeted.
At the morgue of the general hospital in the north of the city, a police officer guarding the scene told AFP: “There were bodies brought here after the (nearest military) camp morgue was overwhelmed.”
The worst of the clashes took place in the centre and south of the city, with police property and offices used by the ruling party and the opposition torched.
Several people were burned alive in the headquarters of the UDPS, led by veteran leader Etienne Tshisekedi.
The looted premises in Ndjili included a depot for agricultural produce set up by the government just two years ago.
“Most people can’t afford the corn produced in Congo,” said a man who gave just his first name Patrick. “It was anger that made people loot,” he added.
“We don’t have a particular problem with Kabila but we want him to say publicly that he does not plan to run for another term,” he said.
Political tension has gripped the country since Kabila’s disputed re-election in November 2011.
Tshisekedi, who officially came second in the poll, has never accepted his defeat and the resulting political deadlock has prevented any direct elections taking place since then.
In its statement read on television, the presidency made no reference to the future of the head of state.
It said Kabila called on the opposition to abandon “the insurgency” and join him in “ongoing dialogue to resolve difficulties arising from organising new (local) elections required by the constitution.”
This “national dialogue” began on September 1 between the ruling majority, representatives of civil society and a minority fringe of the opposition to try to sketch a way out of the political crisis.
The Catholic Church, respected for the decisive role it played in the opening to democracy in the 1990s and which participates in the dialogue, said Tuesday they should seek a wider consensus in which it should be “clearly laid down” that Kabila will not stand.