Pope Francis on Wednesday made a fresh appeal for calm in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after a bloody crackdown on anti-government marches organised by the country’s powerful Catholic Church.
Six people were killed, scores injured and dozens arrested, according to the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, when security forces opened fire on Catholic-organised rallies against President Joseph Kabila on Sunday. The government has put the death toll at two.
“Unfortunately, worrying information continues to reach us” from DR Congo, the pope said at the end of his weekly audience to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square.
“I renew my call for everyone to work to avoid any form of violence,” he said.
“For its part, the Church wants nothing more than to contribute to the peace and the common good of society,” said the pope, whose close ally Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, archbishop of Kinshasa, is at the forefront of the mobilisation.
Kabila, 46, has been in power since 2001, at the helm of a regime widely criticised for corruption, repression and incompetence.
His constitutional term in office expired in December 2016 but he has stayed on, stoking a bloody spiral of violence.
Under a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, he was allowed to stay in office provided new elections were held in 2017.
The authorities then postponed the election until December 23 this year, citing what they said were logistical problems in preparing for the vote.
Marches on Sunday and New Year’s Eve urged Kabila to publicly declare that he would not stand again in December.
The delay, coupled with the mounting violence, has placed Kabila on collision course with the church, which has a prominent role in DR Congo due to its educational and social care work.
Monsengwo on Tuesday denounced the crackdown, saying the security forces had been “more armed than on a battlefield”.
“We want the force of the law to reign and not the law of force,” the cardinal said in a press conference.