Congo protest death toll climbs to 42 - Rights group

Congo's opposition parties called the protests against a draft measure that could delay the 2016 elections.

Democratic Republic of Congo protesters block a street in Kinshasa on 19 January 2015. Picture: AFP.

KINSHASA - At least 42 people have been killed in protests in Democratic Republic of Congo against a reform of the electoral code which the opposition says is designed to keep President Joseph Kabila in power, a rights group said.

Paul Nsapu, secretary general for Africa of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), said most of the victims were killed as they took part in political protests.

The government says 15 people have been killed, and most of them were looting and shot by private security guards.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the victims were a policeman and 10 civilians, killed by security guards as they tried to loot private property in Kinshasa.

Congo's opposition parties called the protests on Monday in a bid to stop pro-government legislators approving a reform of the electoral code that would require a national census before the presidential vote.

The opposition says that would delay the ballot by several years, extending Kabila's time in power.

Kabila came to power when his father was shot dead in 2001 and won elections in 2006 and 2011. The Constitution bars him from standing for a third term in next year's ballot.

However, in a move critics say is aimed at prolonging his stay in office, the government wants to revise the electoral law and order a census before any vote.

Kabila's allies say this task could be completed within a year, but opponents argue that it will take far longer in a nation the size of Western Europe, which has little infrastructure and poor communications.

The government proposal was adopted by the lower house at the weekend. The Senate discussed the bill on Tuesday and members voted to send the legislation to a commission that will examine any proposed amendments.

Witnesses said Chinese and Indian owned shops in the Masina and Ndjili neighborhoods had been targeted by looters.

SMS services for mobile phones, Wi-Fi and mobile internet were all down in Kinshasa on the orders of the government, a diplomat and an employee at a mobile phone network said. There was no immediate comment from the government.

Congo's economy has long been crippled by mismanagement, corruption and two decades of armed conflict in the country's eastern borderlands. But investors have long been attracted to its largely undeveloped mineral reserves.