The Roman Catholic Church has shut its schools in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, over protests against President Joseph Kabila enters the third day.
Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya Church head advised the people to peacefully oppose government moves to delay presidential elections until a census is held.
The highly influential Catholic Church runs many schools in the country. At least 11 people have been killed in the protests. Demonstrators say government plans for a census are a ploy to delay next year’s elections so that Kabila can hang on to power.
Kabila, who has won two disputed elections, is constitutionally barred from running for a third term. The government admits that the election could be delayed, but says the census is vital to ensure polls are free and fair.
The Catholic Church is the largest religious group in DR Congo, and its intervention on the side of the opposition is significant citizens said.
Schools in Kinshasa would remain shut until Monday, Cardinal Pasinya said.
Shots rang out as protests continued in the city on Wednesday, according to a report credited to AFP. The security forces had sealed off the government-run University of Kinshasa, the focal point of protests.
Kinshasa has a population of more than nine million, and is seen as an opposition stronghold.
Lambert Mende spokesman for the government said the 11 dead included a policeman shot by a sniper and ten civilians killed by security guards while attempting to loot private properties.
He said 22 people had been wounded, most of them policemen.
Opposition leader Vital Kamerhe disputed the government’s figures, saying 28 protesters had been killed – eight on Tuesday and 20 on Monday. The protests coincided with a debate in the Senate, the upper parliamentary chamber, over government plans to hold a census before elections.
Most senators, including members of the governing party, said they were opposed to the plan because it risked destabilising the country. The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, approved the plan on Saturday, in a vote boycotted by opposition MPs.
The opposition said this amounts to a “constitutional coup” by Kabila, as it will take about three years for a census to be conducted in DR Congo, which is two-thirds of the size of western Europe, has very little infrastructure and is hit by instability in the east. Kabila took power in 2001 following the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila.