November 10, 2015 / 1:57 PM / 3 years ago

Police fire tear gas at anti-govt crowd in Congo's Lubumbashi

LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Police fired tear gas at hundreds of people armed with sticks and shovels protesting the arrest of several youth leaders in Congo’s second largest city of Lubumbashi on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said.

The crowd shouted abuse at dozens of police officers gathered near the headquarters of UNAFEC (National Union of Federations of Congo), one of several parties expelled from the ruling coalition after voicing concern that President Joseph Kabila is seeking to cling to power beyond the end of his mandate in 2016.

Around 15 youth members of UNAFEC were arrested on Monday, including leader Kabulo Shimbe Zasou, party president Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwamza said.

Some of the protesters in the mining city hurled rocks and the officers fled the scene shortly before midday, firing tear gas behind them.

A government spokesman said he did not yet have information on the events in Lubumbashi.

The UNAFEC president said Monday’s arrests were a provocation and harassment. “This shows the bad faith of the government in place,” he said.

Opposition protests in Congo, a copper producer, have turned violent several times this year. The opposition accuses Kabila of attempting to delay 2016 elections, which, if successful, would be the Central African nation’s first peaceful transition.

U.S. rights group Freedom House considers Congo “not free”, citing threats against journalists and human rights advocates as well as the unlawful detention of government critics.

Several other African leaders in Rwanda and neighbouring Congo Republic are seeking to change their constitutions to prolong their terms. Their attempts have led to violence in some countries, including Burkina Faso.

Reporting by Aaron Ross; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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