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FILE PHOTO: Riot policemen parade before blocking demonstrators during a protest against President Joseph Kabila organized, by the Catholic church in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

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PARIS (Reuters) - France on Monday blamed Congolese security forces for the shooting dead of at least six people and wounding of dozens during a protest against President Joseph Kabila organised by the Catholic Church.

"France strongly condemns the violence perpetrated by the security forces during the demonstrations organised on 21 January 2018," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.

"It reiterates its call for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, starting with the right to protest."

Kabila's refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in December 2016 has triggered a series of street protests in which scores have been killed in Kinshasa. It has also emboldened armed rebel groups in different parts of the country.

In the statement, France called for the proportionate use of force in the maintenance of law and order.

The instability has stoked fears that the vast, mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo could slide back into the wars that killed millions in the 1990s, mostly from hunger and disease.

(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Richard Lough)

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Reuters