Plans by current President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo to hold a national census that critics say could delay elections for years prompted a rock-throwing melee in the capital city, Kinshasa. National elections are due in 2016.
Witnesses said security forces fired live rounds and tear gas at the protesters Monday. Opposition parties have been trying to block the proposed change in the election law endorsed by Kabila.
Protests also erupted in Goma, the main city in eastern DR Congo.
The bill has already been approved by the lower house of Parliament and is due to be examined by the senate.
One protestor, who spoke to the Reuters news agency, likened the growing anti-Kabila movement to the one that swept out former President Blaise Compaore in Burkina Faso. “We think the people are getting there little by little, and we will replicate Burkina,” he said.
Critics call the reform a “constitutional coup,” but the government says the census is a necessary part of the electoral process in the vast, mineral-rich country of 65 million people.
Kabila’s rivals say they fear heavy-handed police tactics, and crowds have in the past been easily dispersed. Ahead of Monday’s march, opposition leaders called on supporters to show more resistance and to fight back against police.
A witness in Matonge, a neighborhood near Parliament, said he saw police fire live rounds in the air in a bid to disperse people. Crowds later looted Chinese-owned shops in the area.
Tension over the election law comes as DR Congo’s army and United Nations peacekeepers are preparing to attack Rwandan Hutu rebels, who have been at the heart of nearly two decades of conflict in the eastern border zones.