Parts of Congo hit by a widespread Ebola outbreak will not be able to vote until March. The country, meanwhile, has expelled the EU's ambassador after Brussels renewed sanctions on 14 Congolese nationals.
Congolese police fired tear gas into crowds of protesters and shot bullets into the air in the eastern cities of Beni and Butembo on Thursday. Demonstrations have erupted across Congo's areas hardest-hit by Ebola after the government announced it would delay voting in the country's upcoming elections in these regions.
In Beni, witnesses told the Reuters news agency that demonstrators ransacked an Ebola isolation center and it was possible that some patients had fled.
At least six people were arrested in the province of North Kivu, the area most affected by the voting delay. The area is also a stronghold of political opposition to President Joseph Kabila.
Around 3 percent of Congo's 40 million eligible voters will have to wait until March to cast their ballots. Worse still, the country's next president will be decided without their votes. The rest of the country will finally go to the polls on Sunday after more than two years of delays.
Shutdown called on Friday
The postponement prompted opposition politicians in Beni, and community leaders like Teddy Kataliko, to demand a nationwide shutdown on Friday.
"We call on the population to stay at home ... until this unjust decision by the election commission is revoked. All the provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo should now show solidarity," Kataliko said.
Parliamentary candidate Philemon Ndambi Wandambi from the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo party (MLC) told DW the fresh delay is "a conspiracy against the cities of Beni and Butembo so that the population cannot vote against the government."
He said Ebola is not an obstacle to the election. "It's just an excuse. What we need are the elections."
Blaise Musubao, an activist for another opposition party, the Social Movement for Renewal (MSR), refused to accept the election commission's decision.
"On 30 December 2018 the election will take place in Beni, period!" he said.
International pressure urged
Observers have called on the international community to respond to what many say is a legally questionable move.
"How will the UN or EU countries like Belgium and Germany respond to such an absurd announcement?" asked Gesine Ames, coordinator of the German faith-based civic society group Ecumenical Network Central Africa.
"What happens if the opposition candidate wins the majority of votes [in these regions] when the president has already been appointed?" she told DW.
Kabila, who is supposed to step down after the vote, has been in power for 18 years after succeeding his assassinated father. His departure will be the first democratic transition to take place in Kinshasa since its independence from Belgium in 1960.
The run-up to Sunday's vote has been marked by waves of violence and a clampdown on opposition rallies partially orchestrated by Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister and President Kabila's hand-picked successor.
EU diplomat given marching orders
Also on Thursday, Congo gave its European Union ambassador Bart Ouvry 48 hours to leave the country after Brussels, earlier in the month, reinstated sanctions against the country for an additional year.
The penalties were first adopted in December 2016 in response to what the EU said was the Congolese government's obstruction of the electoral process, and the related human rights violations.
An EU spokesman told the Agence France-Presse the bloc "regrets this decision and considers it as completely unjustified."
"On the eve of very challenging elections in DRC, such a decision can only be considered counterproductive," the spokesman said.
Fourteen Congolese nationals have had their assets frozen and are subject to an EU-wide travel ban.
John Kanyuyu contributed to this report.