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Congo's Catholic Cardinal: Crackdown On Protesters Is 'Barbarism'

Jan 3, 2018
Originally published on January 3, 2018 6:11 am
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The Democratic Republic of Congo experienced its own deadly crackdown in recent days. It happened on New Year's Eve when security forces opened fire on demonstrators and churchgoers. At least five people were killed. The protesters were demanding the departure of the president, who was expected to step aside more than a year ago. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Weeping).

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The weeping widow of a 24-year-old man shot dead Sunday by the Congolese security forces in the capital Kinshasa, says his family. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the widely respected head of the Roman Catholic Church in predominantly Catholic Congo, has added his influential voice to those denouncing what he calls repression by the authorities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAURENT MONSENGWO PASINYA: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Cardinal Monsengwo says the response by the security forces to peaceful protests against President Joseph Kabila was nothing short of barbaric. "We condemn the actions of supposedly valiant men in uniform," the cleric told journalists. He accused the authorities of opening fire on peaceful protesters and using tear gas against people worshipping in churches during Sunday Mass, armed with just their Bibles and rosaries.

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PASINYA: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Catholic activists, backed by civil society groups and opposition parties, organized the New Year's Eve rallies, again calling for President Kabila to step down. In power for the past 17 years, his constitutional two-term limit was up a year ago. The Catholic church brokered a 2016 peace deal that was supposed to see Kabila bow out and elections held by the end of 2017. Critics accuse the president of clinging to power and stalling the vote to elect his successor. Cardinal Monsengwo had harsh words for Congo's leadership.

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PASINYA: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: The cardinal says, "it's time for mediocre people to leave office and for truth to replace systematic lies in Congo." He asks how the Congolese can have any confidence in leaders who are incapable of protecting the people or guaranteeing peace and justice.

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PIERRE-ROM MWANAMPUTU: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Police spokesman Pierre-Rom Mwanamputu acknowledges that five people were killed, but says they were criminals and not peaceful protesters or churchgoers. Cardinal Monsengwo is calling for an independent investigation into Sunday's killings in Congo. The human rights minister has said there will be an inquiry. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.