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At least a dozen die in Congo protests over controversial electoral law

Antigovernment protests in Congo have left at least 12 people dead, as the Senate had postponed an expected vote Thursday on a proposed law that the opposition fears will prolong the president's time in power.

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    Antigovernment protesters burn tires as a protester holds rocks, while they block a road during a protest against a new law that could delay the scheduled election to be held in 2016, in the city of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Jan. 20, 2015. Officials say at least a dozen people are dead amid protests which began Monday, over a proposed law that opposition groups fear will prolong the president’s time in power.
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Anti-government protests in Congo have left at least a dozen people dead, officials said Thursday, as the Senate postponed a vote on a proposed law that the opposition fears will prolong the president's time in power.

After three days of unrest, Congo's capital returned cautiously to normal on Thursday, but protests continued elsewhere. In the east, four people died, an official said.

The Internet, which was cut amid the protests, was partially restored Thursday although text messages were still blocked.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern Thursday over the deaths and called on both sides to exercise restraint. A U.N. Security Council statement deplored the deaths and urged Congo's government to set a framework and calendar for "peaceful, credible and timely elections."

The Senate had been expected to vote Thursday on a proposed law that would require a census before presidential elections next year. But the chamber postponed the vote until Friday. Critics say the logistical challenges of conducting a census in the vast country would delay elections.

The lower house passed the measure Saturday, setting off protests that have roiled Kinshasa and other parts of the country.

Since Monday, 12 people died, government spokesman Lambert Mende said on Thursday. More than 400 people have been arrested.

But the International Federation for Human Rights said Wednesday that 42 people were killed when security forces fired on protesters.

Mende denied that police fired on protesters and emphasized that the deaths happened as a result of looting.

Neither Mende nor the coalition had death tolls for Thursday, when an uneasy calm returned to the capital. But Omar Kavota, a civil society representative in the eastern city of Goma said four people died there.

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.

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Gouby reported from Goma, Congo.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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