Police in Democratic Republic of Congo launched an assault on the residence of the leader of a separatist religious sect in Kinshasa early on Tuesday and fired live ammunition and tear gas at his supporters, a Reuters witness said.
The assault on the home of Ne Muanda Nsemi, a self-proclaimed prophet and leader of the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) sect, began around 4:30 a.m. local time (0330 GMT).
Dozens of police were involved in the operation and gunfire could be heard in the capital’s Ma Campagne district after daybreak, the witness said.
There was no immediate word on casualties.
Police have clashed with BDK members several times over the past month in their native Kongo Central province in the southwest of the country, but the spread of violence to Kinshasa several hundred kilometres away marks a serious escalation.
The violence is also part of a broader surge in instability across Congo in recent weeks after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his constitutional mandate expired in December.
It was unclear whether the BDK supporters, who could be seen on the roofs of several nearby buildings in their distinctive white robes and red head-dress, were armed. A police spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Nsemi founded BDK in the 1980s, seeking to revive the pre-colonial Kongo kingdom, which flourished for centuries around the mouth of the Congo river on central Africa’s Atlantic coast.
(Reporting By Benoit Nyemba; Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Gareth Jones)