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Dozens arrested in DR Congo civil rights protests

Police try to calm down supporters of Martin Fayulu, the runner up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's(DRC'S) elections, during a protest in the streets of Kinshasa on January 21, 2019, against the newly-elected president. - DR Congo is making plans to install Felix Tshisekedi as its new president this week after a long and bitter election whose outcome was disputed by the runner-up and shunned by many western nations. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / AFP)

Dozens of people were arrested during rights protests in DR Congo on Wednesday, activists said, in an incident likely to pose a fresh challenge for new President Felix Tshisekedi.

Writing on Twitter, the pro-democracy Lucha movement said police in the eastern city of Goma had swooped on its members as they held a protest march over the “savage killing” of more than 20 people there since the start of the year.

Timothee Muissa Kiense, mayor of Goma which lies in the conflict-hit North Kivu region, told AFP the march was “unauthorised” and “disturbed public order.”

Another 30 people from civil society groups were briefly arrested in Kinshasa as they demanded that former president Joseph Kabila who stood down in January be prosecuted for abuses during his 18-year reign, Lucha said. 

“We believe (Kabila) committed many crimes and these should not go unpunished,” Lucha spokesman Stephie Mukinzi said.

“We are also asking for compensation and reparations for all victims of repression under the Kabila regime.”

Tshisekedi, who heads the UDPS, Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest and oldest opposition party, made history on January 24 when he took over from Kabila.

It was the country’s first peaceful handover of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Tshisekedi, in his inaugural address, vowed to make respect for rights a cornerstone of his presidency, which follows an 18-year period under Kabila when demonstrations were routinely and bloodily dispersed.

On Tuesday, six police officers convicted of deadly violence against a student demonstration in Lubumbashi, DR Congo’s second city, were sentenced to jail terms ranging from six months to 20 years. 

During the incident in late January, three students and a police officer died when police broke up a demonstration demanding the restoration of water and electricity to the city’s university campus which had been cut off during a storm. 

The incident occurred just days after Tshisekedi was sworn in, with the new president immediately ordering the arrest of those involved. 

Twelve officers went on trial on various charges including murder and attempted murder, with six convicted and six acquitted, a defence lawyer said. 

Tshisekedi took office after being declared victor of the December 30 elections, with fellow opposition candidate Martin Fayulu coming a very close second in an outcome he has repeatedly insisted was rigged by outgoing president Kabila.

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