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Democratic Republic of Congo

Tension high in DRC as President Kabila's mandate ends

Military and police forces were deployed across DRC on Monday amid fears of unrest on the last official day of President Joseph Kabila's mandate. Opposition protests were quickly dispersed with arrests reported.

Joseph Kabila, leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has said that he intends to stay on after his presidential term ends on Monday midnight, December 19. A court previously ruled that he can remain in power until new elections are held. However Kabila has postponed further elections indefinitely. Many observers fear that protests will break out after the deadline passes.

"There hasn't really been anyone coming out onto the streets today but everyone is very tense and waiting to see what will happen at midnight when Kabila's mandate expires," Melanie Gouby, a freelance reporter in the capital Kinshasa, told DW.

DR Kongo Unruhe vor Präsidentschaftsende von Joseph Kabila (Reuters/T. Mukoya)

#byebye Kabila has been trending on Twitter

Moise Katumbi, a popular opposition politician in the DRC, called on Kabila to stand down to avoid chaos and bloodshed.

"I am advising him, it is still possible to leave a legacy. It is very important. At midnight he will no longer be a legitimate president," Katumbi told the Guardian newspaper on Sunday night.

Security presence

Despite the heavy deployment of security forces at the University of Kinshasa, around the exit leading to the center of town, crowds still gathered.

"We can't demonstrate because of the police. They are patrolling and searching people," said Jean Eva, an unemployed young man. "Tonight is the end of Kabila's mandate. At midnight, we are going to whistle to mark the end of the match. We'll whistle from our homes, in front of our doors. Lots of people have whistles."

In Goma, capital of North Kivu Province in eastern DRC, activists tried to build barricades but were quickly dispersed by police. At least 41 opposition members and activists have been arrested according to Human Rights Watch. 

"We'll keep trying to protest with the means we have, but the military deployment is truly imposing," Luc Nkulula, an activist with pro-democracy group Lucha, told the AP news agency.

Colonel Van Kasongo, police spokesman and North Kivu deputy commissioner confirmed the arrests, saying the protesters "were disturbing public order and had thrown stones at police vehicles."

DR Kongo Unruhe vor Präsidentschaftsende von Joseph Kabila (Reuters/T. Mukoya)

Most streets in the capital Kinshasa are empty as residents await the midnight deadline

Some activists reported that access to certain social media sites such as Facebook and WhatsAPP had been blocked. Others have said that access has only been limited on certain networks. The government had previously warned that it would shut down several networks.

"A lot of people who regularly use social media networks have downloaded virtual private networks (VPNs) so that they can access these sites," said Gouby.

Tensions remain

While the opposition has not officially called for demonstrations, many observers expect people to take to the streets.

When the electoral commission failed to schedule the election in September, thousands of people protested and human rights groups say more than 50 people were killed.

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Congolese officials have said that more time is needed to update voter rolls and to make other preparations before elections can be held. The ruling PPRD has suggested that a vote could be held in April 2018. Opposition groups are calling for new elections in 2017.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Saturday that concerns about unrest are high, especially since "no one to date has been held accountable" for the protesters' deaths in September.

otj/AP

 

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