Shots heard in DRCongo cities as Kabila’s mandate expires
Gunfire was heard in DR Congo’s two largest cities as the opposition leader called on citizens to reject President Joseph Kabila whose mandate expired Tuesday with no sign he was ready to leave.
With fears of fresh violence high in the vast and unstable nation, shots rang out in the capital Kinshasa and the country’s second city of Lubumbashi.
An AFP correspondent said streets of the Lubumbashi neighbourhood of Matuba were strewn with rocks and burnt tyres early Tuesday amid a heavy police presence.
A policeman in Matuba told AFP that his men were facing hostile groups of demonstrators.
Demonstrators in Kinshasa late Monday blew whistles and beat on improvised drums, calling on the 45-year-old who has led the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2001 to quit.
Kabila’s mandate officially ends on Tuesday.
He is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term but under a recent constitutional court order, he may stay on until a successor is chosen.
The ruling party and some opposition leaders have struck an agreement to schedule an election in April 2018 at the earliest, leaving Kabila in office until the vote. But the main opposition bloc rejects this plan.
State television overnight announced the formation of a new government following the agreement between Kabila’s administration and the fringe opposition parties.
The new cabinet will be led by Sami Badibanga, a defector from the party of the mainstream opposition party led by 84-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi.
In a YouTube video released during the night, Tshisekedi launched “a solemn appeal to the Congolese people to no longer recognise the authority of Mr. Joseph Kabila, to the international community to no longer deal with Joseph Kabila in the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
Valentin Mubake, a close aide to Tshisekedi, confirmed to AFP that the video was authentic, and said it was filmed in the Kinshasa district where he lives.
The message was not available in the DR Congo where authorities since Sunday have imposed controls on pictures and video on social media networks.
The leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) said he urged the opposition movement called the “Rassemblement” (the Gathering) to “continue negotiations” with the government launched on December 8 by the Catholic Church in order to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
In a last-ditch bid to achieve a peaceful transfer of power, the church began talks last week including all of the country’s parties.
The talks were halted on Saturday with no significant progress made, but were due to resume on Wednesday.
A democratic handover would break new ground for DR Congo’s 70 million people who since independence from Belgium in 1960 have never witnessed a democratic transfer of power following polls.
The president has been in office since his father Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001. He was elected in 2006, and again in 2011, in a poll the opposition decried as rigged.
Tshisekedi’s opposition grouping had threatened to bring people onto the streets from Monday if the talks had failed.
“I don’t see (Kabila) caving in to pressure,” his diplomatic advisor Bin Karubi said Monday.
The UN rights office in Congo said 28 people were arrested in Kinshasa on Monday and 46 in the eastern cities of Goma and Bukavu.
In Kinshasa, security forces on Monday cordoned off the university but students reached by telephone said they had been planning “to march peacefully” to parliament to demand Kabila step down.
Some two decades ago, Congo sunk into the deadliest conflict in modern African history, its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s dragging in at least six African armies and leaving more than three million dead.