DRC bishops urge deal by Christmas to avert crisis

2016-12-21 21:02
File: AFP

File: AFP

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Kinshasa - The Roman Catholic church on Wednesday issued a strong plea to DR Congo's political leaders to strike a deal by Christmas to stem an explosive crisis over the fate of President Joseph Kabila.

The call by bishops sponsoring key talks between the opposition and the ruling party came a day after deadly protests erupted over Kabila's refusal to step down at the end of his mandate Tuesday.

His second and final term ran out with no election on the near horizon and no sign that he plans to leave power any time soon.

According to a UN provisional toll, 19 people were killed and 45 hurt in violence across Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday.

The government put the toll at 11 dead.

Tension remained high on Wednesday, with activity resuming slowly in Kinshasa, a megacity of 10 million people, and troops and police posted at major crossroads.

All eyes were on the resumption of the talks headed by the Episcopal Conference, CENCO, that had broken up at the weekend with no progress.

"Our wish is to end before Christmas," said CENCO chairman Monsignor Marcel Utembi. "If the political and civil society actors do not reach a compromise by then... CENCO will draw the consequences."

'Peaceful resistance'

In Rome, Pope Francis too appealed to the people of DRC to be "artisans of peace".

"May those who are in positions of political responsibility listen to the voice of their conscience, learn to see the cruel sufferings of their fellow citizens and have at heart the common good."

Gunfire rang out across the vast and troubled nation as the protests erupted Tuesday.

So far the mainstream opposition has called for "peaceful resistance" from the country's 70 million people, pinning its hopes on a deal at the negotiating table.

But in what Kabila's opponents dubbed "a provocation", a new government was announced overnight Monday, headed by Samy Badibanga.

The freshly appointed cabinet is part of an October deal struck between the ruling party and tiny fringe opposition groups enabling Kabila to remain in office pending elections in April 2018.

Wave of arrests

However, the main opposition bloc headed by 84-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi rejects the plan. It wants elections next year - along with a pledge that Kabila will not stand.

Maman Sambo Sidikou, the head of the UN mission in Congo, had voiced alarm on Tuesday about a wave of arrests of opposition leaders, rights campaigners and journalists since December 16.

Kabila, 45, who has ruled since 2001, is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term but under a controversial recent constitutional court order, he may stay on until a successor is chosen.

In a YouTube video, 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".

He urged people "to peacefully resist the coup d'etat".

The message was not available in DRC where authorities have since Sunday imposed strict controls on social media networks.

DR Congo has never witnessed a democratic transfer of power following polls since independence from Belgium in 1960.

The president has been in office since his father Laurent Kabila's assassination in 2001. He was elected in 2006, and again in 2011.

Two decades ago, the country collapsed into the deadliest conflict in modern African history. Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s dragged in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead.

Read more on:    joseph kabila  |  drc  |  central africa

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