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Kinshasa - Police in Kinshasa on Thursday used teargas to block a march by Christian groups protesting alleged fraud in the November polls that returned President Joseph Kabila and his party to power.
Groups of Christian faithful had been converging since dawn on the meeting point in front of Saint Joseph's church in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital.
But riot police dispersed the growing crowd before the start of the march, which was also due to mark the 20th anniversary of the deadly suppression of a Christian pro-democracy protest but was banned by the government.
“Their repression was ferocious: they fired teargas everywhere in the compound, right into the priests' quarters,” Father Pierre Bosangia, one of the march's organisers, told reporters by phone from inside the besieged church compound.
He said church workers had gathered information indicating that the security services had detained three priests, two nuns and two protesters.
Policemen also prevented people in other parishes across Kinshasa from reaching the compound, he said.
Incidents were also reported at a church in another Kinshasa neighbourhood from which a group was preparing to leave and join the larger gathering at Saint Joseph.
One witness said police stood idly by when dozens of mainly teenage thugs poured out of two buses and stormed the church of Lemba parish, in the east of the city.
“Four police jeeps arrived and then two buses came. We saw kulunas (thugs) aged maybe 13 to 20 who entered by the back door... They started beating the women,” the man said, shell-shocked and asking his name not be published.
Kabila, in power since 2001, was declared the winner of a November 28 election which was condemned by the opposition and the international community as chaotic and marred by widespread irregularities.
Parliamentary polls held the same day gave the ruling party and its allies an absolute, albeit reduced, majority after a weeks-long tallying process that let resentment and distrust fester.
The Roman Catholic Church is influential in DR Congo and one of the best organised forces in a country two-thirds the size of Western Europe but ranked the world's least developed state by the United Nations.
Catholic groups had the largest contingent of observers on voting day, with around 30 000 deployed across the country.
The Church issued a damning report in January that said the electoral process had brought shame on the country - citing ballot-stuffing and a general climate of fear - and urged the electoral panel to resign.
The organisers of Thursday's march had planned to condemn the manner in which the elections were conducted and the votes counted.
They also wanted to commemorate the February 16, 1992, march for democracy organised by Christian groups against the despotic rule of then president Mobutu Sese Seko.
The march was violently repressed and the bodies of several victims were brought to Saint Joseph's church.
Father Bosangia said talks were under way with the United Nations mission in the DR Congo to secure the release of those detained on Thursday.
The authorities “have once again demonstrated their persistent inclination to stifle the population's right to express itself”, the Voice for the Voiceless rights group said in a statement. - Sapa-AFP