Congo police on Wednesday reported no fewer than 22 people dead after anti-government protests in various cities in Congo, with over 275 arrested.
The deaths occurred on Tuesday as demonstrators clashed with police to protest against President Joseph Kabila’s plan to stay in power after his second mandate expired on Monday.
Jose Maria Aranaz, UN human rights director for the central African country, had earlier spoken of 19 people killed and 45 injured just in Kinshasa.
Human Rights Watch researcher Ida Sawyer tweeted earlier that 26 people had been killed in Kinshasa, Lumumbashi, Matadi and Boma.
Sporadic gunfire was heard in Kinshasa on Wednesday, though the city appeared generally calm.
Clashes between demonstrators and police were reported in the second-largest city, Lumumbashi, while the pro-democracy group La Lucha said 18 of its activists had been arrested in Goma in the east.
The United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) criticised the “disproportionate use of violence” by the Congo’s security forces.
It also accused them of using lethal weapons against protesters.
Police said emergency measures would stay in place until after the upcoming Christmas holidays.
Mr. Kabila would normally have relinquished power on Monday at midnight, but elections that had been planned for November were postponed to April 2018. The government cited logistical problems.
Most of the opposition regards the postponement as a ploy to allow Mr. Kabila to stay in power beyond the two terms allowed by the constitution.
Negotiations were due to restart between the government and the main opposition parties, which reject a transitional government, formed by the ruling coalition and smaller opposition parties.
The Congo embassy in South Africa’s administrative capital, Pretoria, meanwhile announced that it would close until next year after being stoned by Congolese demonstrators on Tuesday.
Several protesters were reportedly injured by rubber bullets fired by South African police.
Pope Francis renewed his earlier appeal to the Congolese, expressing hope that “in this delicate moment of their history, may they be artisans of reconciliation and peace.”
“May those who are in positions of political responsibility listen to the voice of their conscience.
“Also learn to see the cruel sufferings of their fellow citizens and have at heart for the common good,” the pontiff added.
Observers fear increasing unrest in Congo, which has been unstable since the fall of dictator Mobutu Sese Seku in 1997, with dozens of armed groups vying for power in the mineral-rich east of the country.