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UN rights chief raps Congo over protest deaths

Kinshasa - The UN human rights chief strongly condemned this week's fatal shooting of anti-government protesters in Democratic Republic of Congo and urged the government on Thursday to seek dialogue with the opposition.

Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said the death toll from clashes between protesters and security forces in the capital Kinshasa on Monday had risen to at least 50. The government has said 32 people died.

A Congolese woman cries for her husband who, according to witnesses, was killed when security forces burned down the headquarters of the main opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress in Kinshasa. Picture: Goran Tomasevic. Credit: REUTERS

Congolese authorities have said elections due in November cannot be held until at least next year due to logistical problems. President Joseph Kabila denies opponents' charges of trying to cling to power beyond a two-term limit in the vast central African country, a producer of gold, diamonds and copper.

"The writing is on the wall and the authorities need to pull back from their extremely confrontational position and build bridges with the opposition," Zeid said in a statement.

"Some civilians were killed by gunshots to the head or chest and I strongly condemn the clearly excessive use of force by defence and security forces against demonstrators in the capital," he said in Geneva.

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende criticised French President Francois Hollande for comments in New York on Tuesday in which he blamed authorities for the deaths and urged them not to delay the election.

"Hollande, with the accent of a schoolteacher, has poured scorn on the Congolese government which he blames for the violence," Mende said, adding that Hollande had ignored attacks by protesters on buildings of pro-government political parties.

Mende played down an incident at the weekend in which Washington said its Special Envoy to the Great Lakes of Africa, Tom Perriello, was obstructed and harassed at the airport as he was leaving Kinshasa.

Mende said there was no aggression from security officials or from ruling party deputies, who instead engaged in "lively debate" with Perriello.

Congo's attorney general vowed on Wednesday to hunt down and punish those responsible for Monday's riots.

The same day, Kabila's office said security was restored and invited people to return to their daily activities. World powers, especially the United States, have heaped pressure on Kabila to respect the constitution and hold elections on time.

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