Lawmakers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) delayed a vote Thursday over hotly contested legislation that would extend President Joseph Kabila's rule. It follows days of violent confrontations between police and protestors over the draft law.
The decision to put off the vote until Friday came amid fresh clashes in the country’s east. Meanwhile tension remains high in the capital Kinshasa, where rights groups said as many as 42 people have been killed in this week’s turmoil.
But according to a Senate official the delay was caused not by the violence, but because a committee had not finished examining the legislation approved by the lower house last weekend.
The proposed law has sparked widespread unrest, with opposition groups branding it a "constitutional coup d’état." Under the bill, Kabila — who has been in power in the troubled central African country for 14 years — would be entitled to extend his term beyond 2016, when his second mandate is due to end.
Speaking from Belgium on Tuesday, DRC opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi called on Congolese people to force a "dying regime" from power.
Amid heavy police presence, the capital Kinshasa was largely calm on Thursday.
Elsewhere, unrest continued to flare. In Goma — the main city in the mineral-rich east, around 900 miles from the capital — police opened fire on protesters and used tear gas to repel rock-hurling youths building street barricades.
The mayor of Goma also announced that all schools would be closed until Monday in order "to ensure that calm has returned."
The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) put the total number of people killed in this week’s violence at 42.
"As has unfortunately become a frequent occurrence in the DRC, the security forces have again demonstrated a totally excessive and disproportionate reaction by firing live ammunition on protesters," it said in a statement.
Kabila’s government challenged the rights group’s figures, saying only 12 people had died, while another Congolese rights group put the number of dead at 28.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the victims included one policeman killed by an "unknown" assailant and accused FIDH of being "manipulated" by an exiled Congolese group. He described most of the dead as "looters" who had been killed by private security guards defending businesses.
Kabila, now 43, came to power in January 2001 when politicians rushed to make the young soldier head of state after the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila. Kabila's opponents believe he wants to prolong his mandate by making presidential and parliamentary elections contingent on a new electoral roll, after a census across the vast country set to begin this year.
The government has acknowledged that the census could delay elections due at the end of 2016, but regional analysts and diplomats have estimated the process could take up to three years.
Al Jazeera and wire services