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Over 40 killed in east Congo after crackdown on anti-UN protest

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Over 40 people were killed and 56 wounded in an army crackdown on violent anti-U.N. demonstrations in eastern Congolese city of Goma on Wednesday, the government has said, with the United Nations rights office suggesting the toll could be higher.

Congolese troops forcibly dispersed the protest against the U.N. peacekeeping mission and other foreign organisations after footage of an attack on a policeman circulated on social media. Reuters was unable to verify the footage.

In a statement on Thursday, the government said the death toll stood at 43, while 158 people were arrested. It said a military investigation had been opened.

"We are extremely alarmed that at least 43 people were killed, including a policeman, and 56 injured ...," U.N. human rights office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told a briefing in Geneva on Friday, adding that the office had received information indicating that the death toll may be higher.

Unverified footage posted on social media showed soldiers piling bodies into a lorry and driving them through Goma in a convoy.

The head of the local branch of the International Red Cross in Goma, Anne-Sylvie Linder, said her clinic had received a high number of people with serious stab and gunshot wounds after the protest.

"Some were dead when they arrived," she said.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo, known as MONUSCO, expressed its condolences in a statement and said it remained concerned by the threats of violence.

It also said it "encourages the Congolese authorities to conduct a prompt and independent investigation and calls them to treat those detained humanely and to respect their rights".

The mission has faced protests since 2022 spurred partly by complaints that it has failed to protect civilians against decades of militia violence.

An anti-MONUSCO protest in July 2022 resulted in more than 15 deaths, including three peacekeepers in Goma and the city of Butembo.

(Reporting by Sonia Rolley, Ange Kasongo and Erikas Mwisi Kambale; Additional reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Sofia Christensen, Andy Sullivan, Alessandra Prentice and David Gregorio)