KINSHASA (Reuters) - At least two people were killed when armed men in uniform torched the headquarters of the main opposition party in Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday, witnesses said, beginning a second day of violent protests.
Four other opposition party officies were set alight overnight, the United Nations said, after a day of street violence in which at least 17 people were killed.
A Reuters witness saw two charred bodies inside the burnt-out offices of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Congo’s main opposition party, next to empty gasoline cans. Two other people were badly injured, witnesses said.
The government, which is facing down protests against President Joseph Kabila, denied its forces were involved.
“We were sleeping when men came and forced in the door ... I saw men in military uniform,” said UDPS member Jean Toumba, describing the attack on the Kinshasa office at around 3 a.m. (0200 GMT).
“They threw petrol and set fire to the office. I ran out to hide.”
Protesters erected barricades and burned tyres for a second day after 17 people, including three policemen, were killed on Monday, according to the interior minister. The opposition said up to 53 people died.
Monday’s protest followed a decision by the election commission to seek to postpone the next presidential election, which was due to be held in November.
Kabila is barred by constitutional term limits for running again and his opponents say the election delay is a manoeuvre to keep him in power. The president’s allies deny this and say he will respect the constitution.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende condemned the attack on the UDPS but denied security forces were involved.
“It is completely false to say that the army was involved. That is propaganda and that sort of discourse increases the risk of civil war,” he said.
Felix Tshisekedi, the son of UDPS leader Etienne Tshisekedi who lost against Kabila in a 2011 presidential run-off and who has called for further protests, said: “We won’t live with this barbarity. The people are angry.”
With the unrest forcing schools to close and halting public transport in the sprawling riverside capital, the United Nations expressed fears the situation would worsen.
“I see this as a pivotal moment, there’s the possibility that the current political uncertainty could lead to serious political crisis. Well, that appears to be what’s happening now,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said.
Nearly 200 people were believed to have been arrested on Monday and the U.N. received reports of excessive use of force by security forces, Colville told reporters in Geneva.
Congo, Africa’s top copper producer, has never had a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
Diplomats and donors fear a repeat of civil wars that killed millions of people between 1996 and 2003 and drew in armies from half a dozen countries.
Additional reporting by Amedee Mwarabu in Kinshasa, Tom Miles in Geneva and Emma Farge and Nellie Peyton in Dakar; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Robin Pomeroy