Government officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo have allegedly shut down Internet sites, text messaging services and radio stations amid growing demonstrations over the African nation's upcoming elections. The unrest saw U.S. officials urge Congolese security forces Wednesday to exercise restraint and avoid violence against demonstrators.
"The United States is troubled by reports of widespread violent demonstrations, looting, unlawful arrests, and violence against protesters," according to a press release from the State Department released Wednesday. "We call upon all Congolese security forces, as well as civil society and opposition members, to exercise restraint and refrain from acts of violence. We stress the importance of protecting political space and ensuring that all citizens have the right to peacefully assemble and exercise their rights to free speech."
Congolese protesters are upset over proposed legislation that would allow President Joseph Kabila, 43, to extend his stay in power, according to AFP. The protests have seen hundreds of demonstrators burn down a town hall in the capital Kinshasa, mass looting and prison escapes. At Kinshasa University Wednesday, gunshot rang out as students were locked in a standoff against police.
Kabila has held his position for 14 years and is slated to leave office in 2016. Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi supports the protests. "The sham regime in Kinshasa is constantly committing irresponsible acts of provocation, plunging the nation into a total impasse that could lead to widespread chaos," he said.
Four people were killed in the violent demonstrations Monday as security forces forcibly removed thousands of protesters in Kinshasa, home to roughly 9 million people. Paul Nsapu, secretary general for Africa of the International Federation for Human Rights, said at least 28 more people were killed Tuesday in Kinshasa. "For the most part these people were killed while they were advancing to protest," Nsapu told Reuters. "We didn't expect the government to act in the same way as a rebel group."
The mainly Christian country's Catholic archbishop, Laurent Monsengwo, urged Congolese authorities to "stop killing your people."
"Certain political figures, along with law enforcement agencies, are sowing despair and creating insecurity," Monswengo said Wednesday in a statement.
The proposed legislation being debated by national lawmakers would require a national census before the next presidential vote, thus extending Kabila's time in power.