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Democratic Republic of Congo

Gunfire erupts in Congo's capital as Kabila's mandate expires

Gunfire was heard in several districts of Kinshasa as demonstrators called for President Joseph Kabila to step down. Kabila's term expired at midnight, but he appears set to stay on as ruler.

Gunfire was heard in several parts of the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, early Tuesday morning as protesters took to the streets calling for the resignation of current President Joseph Kabila.

While Kabila's second term officially expired at midnight , the President has shown little sign of stepping down.

Shops were closed in the main square on Monday, and soldiers and police outnumbered passersby in the capital in anticipation of possible violence. Social media access has been blocked and protests were outlawed. The UN human rights office in Congo said 28 people were arrested in Kinshasa and 46 in the eastern cities of Goma and Bukavu.

Demonstrations took place in the districts of Kalamu, Matete and Lingwala. Students at Kinshasa University clashed with soldiers and police, blowing whistles and burning tires.

Kabila, meanwhile, doesn't appear to be willing to leave his post.

"I don't see [Kabila] caving in to pressure," said Kikaya Bin Karubi, Kabila's diplomatic adviser, earlier Monday.

Staying in charge

Critics have accused Kabila, who has been in power for 15 years, of clinging to power by letting his term out without announcing a successor or planning an election. He is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. 

The ruling party, the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), and some opposition leaders have agreed to schedule an election in 2018 and allow Kabila to remain in office until then. But the main opposition bloc disagrees with the plan.

Joseph Kabila (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler)

Kabila has been in power since 2001

Kabila has served as president of the central African nation since his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated in 2001. Joseph Kabila was elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2011, but the opposition said the 2011 election was rigged.

Appeal for 'peaceful resistance'

In a video posted on YouTube Tuesday, opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi called on the Congolese people to peacefully resist what he described as a "coup d'etat."

"I launch a solemn appeal to the Congolese people to not recognize the ... illegal and illegitimate authority of Joseph Kabila," Tshisekedi added.

Should Kabila stay in power, there is growing concern over another civil war. Conflicts in central Africa between 1996 and 2003 killed millions.

According to news agency Reuters, senior diplomats have urged Kabila to step down to stem the prospect of another civil conflict.

Kabila meanwhile has sought to smooth opposition grievances by promising to expand the government by some 20 ministerial posts to more than 65, many of which would be reserved for opposition party members.

However, the main opposition bloc led by Tshisekedi appears unlikely to be appeased by such a deal.

kbd,dm/cmk (AFP, Reuters)