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UN warns of 'rising political tensions' in Congo ahead of opposition protests

Oppositions groups have called for nationwide marches against a court ruling allowing the president to remain in power beyond his limit. The UN chief warned the government of using excessive force against protesters.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday expressed concern over rising political tensions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ahead of opposition protests on Thursday.

"The secretary-general calls for the strict respect of the fundamental freedoms and rights enshrined in the constitution," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq in a statement.

"He urges all parties to exercise restraint and express their views peacefully, including in the context of demonstrations scheduled to take place on May 26," Haq added.

Congolese opposition group Citizens' Front said it will go forward with the protests "organized across the whole of Congolese territory" despite bans in some regions.

The demonstrations aim to challenge a constitutional court ruling earlier this month that effectively allows President Joseph Kabila to continue in office if elections are not held this year.

The ruling is an "attempt at a constitutional coup d'etat by which the judiciary, under orders from political powers, has shamefully violated the law," Citizens' Front said in a statement.

Opposition leader Moise Katumbi is vying for the presidency in elections slated for November

Opposition leader Moise Katumbi is vying for the presidency in elections slated for November

Opposition groups and US officials have accused President Joseph Kabila of attempting to extend his mandate beyond its two-term constitutional limit.

Last week, opposition leader Moise Katumbi left the DRC for South Africa in need of medical care, although a warrant was issued for his arrest over allegations he hired mercenaries.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday urged authorities to avoid the "excessive use of force" against protesters after expressing concern over the "mounting pressure" faced by activists in the country.

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ls/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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