Police invaded churches and fired tear gas during Mass in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week in a crackdown on protesters that left 12 people dead. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa called the response “nothing short of barbaric”.

The protests, organised by the Kinshasa archdiocesan lay coordination committee, demanded that President Joseph Kabila keep his promise to step down. At least six priests and a seminarian were among 120 detained by police.

One witness at St Michael’s Church in central Kinshasa told AFP that officers broke up a Mass and arrested altar boys, still in their liturgical robes, who had been protesting against the president.

“While we were praying, the soldiers and the police entered the church compound and fired teargas at the church,” he said.

Another added: “People fell, first-aiders are resuscitating old ladies who have fallen.” The priest continued saying Mass.

Mgr Hugues Ndongisila, rector of Kinshasa’s St Alphonse parish, told Radio France Internationale that police had beaten and robbed Catholics when they sought refuge in his church, shooting out its stained-glass windows. He said the bodies of two dead protesters had later been collected by the Red Cross.

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