TROUBLE: Youths in the DRC block a road as they stage a demonstration against President Joseph Kabila's continued stay in power.

Security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo have ignored intensifying international pressure to halt a wave of repression aimed at preventing any further protests against the government of President Joseph Kabila.

Police, paramilitaries and soldiers rounded up demonstrators and opposition activists across the vast central African country on Wednesday despite calls from the US, Britain, the European Union and the United Nations for authorities and security forces to respect human rights.

In a strongly worded statement, the US government said Kabila and local security forces had an “obligation to … respect the rights of Congolese citizens to assemble peacefully and express their opinions without fear of retaliation, retribution, or arbitrary arrest.”

Stories Continues after ad

But at least 20 activists from LUCHA, a campaign group calling for reform and political change in the DRC, were arrested in Goma when they gathered in front of government offices to call for Kabila to resign.

In Kinshasa the Guardian saw a military truck full of youths apparently under arrest being driven through the city centre, and in the south-eastern mining hub of Lubumbashi local activists said security forces had suppressed a protest, leaving 10 dead and more than 31 injured.

Kabila’s second five-year term in office expired on Monday night. The 45-year-old former guerrilla has said he will respect the constitution, which bars him from standing for a third term, but many fear he intends to remain in power indefinitely.

Supporters of Kabila say logistical and financial issues mean a fresh election cannot take place until 2018, and it is the president’s duty to remain in power in the interim.

Though sporadic gunfire was heard early in the day, normal life appeared to be returning to the Kinshasa on Wednesday, with some shops opening after almost three days of shutdown. There remained a heavy security presence on the streets, however, with hundreds of police and armoured vehicles deployed to key sites.

There is no reliable count of the people detained over recent days, but estimates vary from the 275 admitted by police to more than 600. Col Pierre Mwanamputu, a police spokesman, said 116 people were still being detained.

Human rights groups and the UN say they have evidence that between 19 and 26 people were killed on Tuesday during scattered clashes in the capital, Kinshasa, and in Lubumbashi on Monday night and Tuesday. Nearly 50 people were wounded, they say.

The protests started at midnight on Monday with a chorus of whistles, klaxons and banging of cooking pots, and intensified over the next 12 hours as protesters burned tyres and set up makeshift barricades that were cleared by security forces using live ammunition and teargas.

The US and European powers had already imposed travel bans and asset freezes on individuals close to Kabila. Most are senior security officials accused of human rights abuses. They include the commander of military forces alleged to have been involved in the deaths of more than 60 people when troops opened fire on an opposition demonstration in September.