BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Congo Republic’s opposition parties held a remembrance ceremony on Friday for protesters killed during rallies against President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s plans to change the constitution and potentially extend his rule.
Seventeen people died, according to the opposition, during nationwide demonstrations on Oct. 20 and 21 against a referendum on changes that would allow the 71-year-old president to run in an election next year.
Government officials said four were killed.
At a ceremony at the headquarters of one of the parties in the capital Brazzaville, opposition spokesman Romain Kifouisia pledged to honor the dead by carrying on with protests against Sassou Nguesso. Several hundred opposition supporters attended the ceremony.
“We promise them that tomorrow we will give their families a Congo that is more united, more sensitive to the problems of society, particularly the youth that Sassou Nguesso leaves in the streets without jobs,” he said.
Despite the opposition protests, the referendum went ahead on Oct. 25 with 92 percent of voters backing the changes, according to official results.
The opposition, which had called for a boycott of the vote, rejected both the outcome and the government’s turnout figure of 72 percent participation.
A protest march had been planned for Friday, but authorities in Brazzaville issued an order on Thursday renewing a ban on demonstrations.
As a result, the opposition changed its plans, said Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, a former government minister who was dismissed in August for opposing the plan to change the constitutional and is now a member of the opposition.
“If there were a march they would shoot at us again,” said Kolelas, who claimed his house had been surrounded by the presidential guard since Oct. 22 and said security forces had been deployed across Brazzaville to stop any demonstrations.
“We cannot lead our people to the slaughterhouse,” he said.
Opposition leaders vowed to continue a strategy of public demonstrations against Sassou Nguesso but did not give dates or details.
Sassou Nguesso ruled the oil-producing Central African nation from 1979 until 1992, when he was defeated in a presidential election. His rule resumed five years later after his forces defeated the then-President Pascal Lissouba in a brief civil war.
Additional reporting by Emma Farge in Dakar; editing by Andrew Roche