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U.N. Rights Chief Warns Congo to Pull Back from Brink | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Demonstrators gather in front of a burning car during an opposition rally in Kinshasa on September 19, 2016. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

The U.N. human rights chief on Thursday directed blame at Democratic Republic of Congo’s government for surging political tensions that sparked deadly clashes in the capital Kinshasa this week, warning the authorities are risking a large-scale crisis.

“The authorities need to pull back from their extremely confrontational position and build bridges with the opposition,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

The comments came after the worst unrest in Kinshasa in more than a year, with police confronting opponents of President Joseph Kabila.

The government said 32 people had been killed during two days of clashes, while the opposition said more than three times that number had died.

Opposition groups had organized demonstrations on Monday to demand the resignation of Kabila, who has ruled since 2001 and, under the constitution, should step down on December 20.

Kabila is yet to call elections, fanning fears he plans to stay in power.

“Some civilians were killed by gunshots to the head or chest, and I strongly condemn the clearly excessive use of force by defense and security forces against demonstrators in the capital,” Zeid said, adding that at least 50 people were killed in clashes this week.

Recent events, including civilian deaths and attacks on opposition party headquarters, “provide a stark warning that a large-scale crisis could be just around the corner,” he added in a statement.

“The writing is on the wall.”

A fragile calm appeared to have been restored in Kinshasa on Thursday as security forces brought the wave of violence and looting to an end.

The U.N. Security Council urged all parties in Congo on Wednesday to end violent clashes and open a peaceful political dialogue on the holding of presidential elections.

The council strongly condemned the violence.

The statement approved by all 15 council members stressed “the crucial importance of peaceful, credible, inclusive, transparent and timely presidential elections, in accordance with the constitution.”

The council also called for all parties “to engage into an open, inclusive and peaceful political dialogue over the holding of presidential elections, in accordance with the constitution.” Members expressed support for African Union efforts to facilitate the dialogue.