Gun battles erupted between Congolese security forces and armed militants who launched a series of attacks in Kinshasa on Monday, with the government reporting at least 40 assailants had been killed.
Armed youths believed to be loyal to a pastor who challenged President Joseph Kabila in elections seven years ago also stormed the state television station RTNC and took several reporters hostage.
The heavy gunfire triggered panic among residents in Kinshasa, which has mostly remained free of the conflicts that have long engulfed the mineral-rich east of the giant African nation.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende told AFP that 16 attackers had been killed at Kinshasa's international airport, 16 at the military headquarters and eight more at the RTNC premises.
The motives of the attackers were not immediately clear but Mende said the "aggression" on the eve of New Year festivities was aimed at terrorizing Kinshasa citizens.
"No civilian casualties have been reported and no victims in the security forces," Mende said, adding that the assailants had yet to be identified.
A television station employee said the hostage takers had claimed loyalty to pastor Joseph Mukungubila Mutombo, one of the candidates who challenged Kabila in 2006 elections.
In an open letter dated December 5, Mukungubila expressed bitterness at the way the country was being run and showed his hate for neighboring Rwanda, which once invaded the DR Congo and is accused by the United Nations of backing rebels.
The pastor charged that Kabila was too close to Rwanda.
Gunfire was heard near Mukungubila's residence in DR Congo's second city of Lubumbashi on Monday, according to rights group Justicia.
However, there were no reports of casualties in Lubumbashi, capital of the mineral-rich southeastern province of Katanga, and calm later returned to the area.
The US embassy said it had "received multiple reports of armed engagements and fighting around Kinshasa."
"The embassy urges all US citizens in Kinshasa to stay in place and not travel around the city until further notice," it said in a statement.