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DR Congo amends electoral law

The Democratic Republic of Congo's senate has voted to eliminate a measure in an electoral law that critics say would have prolonged the president's time in power and drew massive protests this week.

The Central African country's lower house voted last week to require a census before next year's presidential elections, prompting demonstrations over concerns that it was merely a ploy to delay that vote.

More than 13 people have died and dozens have been injured in the unrest, according to Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights.

But rights groups put that figure far higher. Ida Sawyer, Human Rights Watch's researcher in the country, said at least 35 people were killed in Kinshasa, the capital, including at least 21 who were shot by security forces. Hundreds of people, including prominent activists and members of the opposition, have been arrested.

The UN has called for calm and urged security forces to show restraint. Mr Colville called on the government to investigate whether police fired on protesters - an allegation the government has denied.

Calm returned today to Kinshasa, which saw the bulk of the protests and looting, as well as other affected cities, like Goma, in the east. Some people celebrated in Kinshasa.

Even though the Senate's vote removed the requirement for a new census before elections, uncertainty remains because a commission must now approve the changes the chamber made.

"People are fed up. They don't want the elections to be delayed. It is very important that one person or party does not monopolise power," said Deogratias Chimere, a professor of political science at Goma University.

The proposed law has raised suspicions among the opposition that President Joseph Kabila, in office since 2001, is hoping to cling to power after his term ends. Term limits prevent Mr Kabila from running again.

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