Between 17 and 50 people have been killed in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, after thousands-strong protests against President Joseph Kabila turned violent.
The demonstration against Kabila on Monday attracted thousands of protestors, but clashes with the police and security forces broke out shortly after they began.
NGOs and the opposition have accused police of using tear gas to disperse demonstrators before opening fire with live ammunition. As the situation escalated, protestors burned cars and set up barricades in the streets.
Police officers also fell victim to the violence, with Reuters reporting that one was set on fire by an angry mob in retaliation for the shooting. The attack was later confirmed by Interior Minister Evariste Boshab.
AFP quoted an opposition statement as saying that at least 50 people were killed in clashes, which also called for further protests.
Earlier, a government statement said that at least 17 people were killed, including three police officers and 14 civilians. It was not immediately clear how all the civilians died, but pictures on social media show several people lying dead with gunshot wounds. The statement also warned that the death toll could rise.
A witness, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed while speaking to IBTimes UK that opposition figures were specifically targeted.
“Dozens wounded, including prominent opposition leader [Martin] Fayulu,” the witness said, “It’s clear that he was targeted, a bullet only just scraped his head. Only a few millimeters and it would have hit his skull. The worst was avoided.”
Protests also took place in the eastern city of Goma, but violence was avoided there. In the wake of the violence in Kinshasa, the government has declared the demonstrations illegal.
The protests were called by activists and opposition parties after elections set to take place in November were postponed by the government, citing logistical problems with the electoral roll that would make a fair process impossible. Opposition groups saw this as little more than an attempt by the president to maintain his hold on power.
Joseph Kabila took office in 2001 after the assassination of his father and is supposed to stand down when his second term ends in December. However, there has been a crackdown on opposition supporters in the run-up to the protests with around a dozen activists being arrested and held without charge in Kinshasa on Friday, which was condemned by Human Rights Watch.
The resource-rich DR Congo has never had a peaceful political transition since independence from Belgium in 1960. The country has also endured a series of civil wars, the bloodiest of which lasted between 1996 and 2003 and killed millions of people.