Rights group raises Congo death toll to 34; talks continue

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KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo security forces have killed at least 34 people this week amid protests against President Joseph Kabila's extended rule, a rights group said Thursday, as mediators urged the ruling and opposition parties to find a way out of the political crisis.

The toll is likely to climb, said Human Rights Watch researcher Ida Sawyer. The group has confirmed 19 deaths in Kinshasa, five in the southern city of Lubumbashi, six in Boma and four in Matadi. Most were shot dead by security forces while protesting in the streets, but passers-by also have been targeted, she told Radio France International.

One family said their son was picked up when he stepped out of the house to make a phone call early Tuesday and was later found dead, Sawyer told RFI.

Police say the heavy security presence will be maintained through the holidays.

Anger has grown as Kabila, in power since 2001, remains in office after his constitutional mandate ended Monday. A court has ruled he can remain in power until a new leader is elected, but elections originally set for November have been postponed indefinitely.

Catholic church-led political talks continued Thursday, and mediators have said a solution must be found before Christmas to reassure the people of this vast, mineral-rich central African country.

Peter Kazidi, the adviser to Etienne Tshisekedi, the leader of the largest opposition party, said mediators had prepared an agreement and were meeting participants in small groups to discuss and amend it. He gave no details of the proposal.

"We were not able to make progress yesterday," Kazidi said. "We want to reach an agreement, but we don't trust the majority to be here in good faith."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged all parties to work in good faith to find a transitional arrangement that keeps with Congo's constitution, and peacefully work toward timely and credible elections.

In a statement late Wednesday, Ban also stressed the need for Congo's security forces to exercise restraint.


Associated Press writer Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

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