UN gives cautious welcome after DRC authorises rally

The United Nations on Wednesday gave a cautious welcome after the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) allowed some anti-government protests to go ahead in the runup to crucial presidential elections.

The demonstrations on Tuesday were seen as a key political barometer in one of the world's most volatile countries.

In Kinshasa, thousands of supporters of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) gathered for the party's first authorised mass rally since September 2016.

But police thwarted some gatherings in the east of the country.

"The decision by the governor (of Kinshasa, Andr Kimbuta) to authorise this political meeting is a decision that we salute, just as we salute the peaceful nature of yesterday's political meeting," Florence Marchal, the spokesperson for the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, told reporters.

The head of the UN's joint office for human rights in the DRC, Abdoul Aziz Thioye, cautioned it was "too soon to determine a trend."

Speaking at the same press conference, he noted that demonstrations had been prevented in northeastern Kisangani on Tuesday, where an activist, Mateus Kanga, was arrested and within hours handed a six-month jail term.

On Wednesday, a march was broken up in Beni, in North Kivu province, he added.

The pro-democracy movement Lucha said on Twitter that it had staged the protest to demonstrate against "the endless massacres" in Beni.

UDPS opposition party leader Felix Tshisekedi looks at supporters during a rally in Kinshasa. (File, AFP) 

"The police brutally dispersed us. Forty-two people were arrested and four were injured," Ghislain Muhiwa, a campaigner who took part in the march told AFP.

Beni police chief Colonel Safari Kazingufu told AFP that "40 people who were disturbing public order were arrested without violence."

Public demonstrations have been banned in the country since September 2016, when dozens of demonstrators were killed in Kinshasa after calling for the departure of President Joseph Kabila, whose second and final mandate ended in December 2016.

Kabila has remained in power under a constitutional clause entitling the president to stay in office pending the election of his successor.

A new vote is due to take place on December 23 after two postponements.

UDPS opposition party supporters shout slogans and wave banners as they take part in a rally in Kinshasa. (File, AFP)

Repeated crackdowns on anti-Kabila protests have stoked fears of a return to full-fledged conflict in a country that has battled with bouts of war, entrenched corruption and enduring poverty since its independence from Belgium in 1960.

The UN, along with the United States, Britain, France and the European Union, has repeatedly warned the government about repression, and also urged the opposition to protest peacefully.

In addition to a deep political crisis, the DRC is struggling with armed conflict in its vast, lawless east, which is under the sway of multiple rebel groups.

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