Crisis-wracked Democratic Republic of Congo was bracing for fresh unrest on Sunday after the country’s influential Catholic church vowed to defy a protest ban and hold a “peaceful march” to urge implementation of a deal for President Joseph Kabila to leave office.

Kabila, who much organisers are calling on to say he will not stand for a third term, has been in power since 2001 when he succeeded his assassinated father, Laurent Kabila.

He refused to step down at the end of his second and final term in December 2016.

That refusal led to protests and a bloody crackdown. Demonstrations have been banned or else widely repressed since September 2016 but several have nonetheless gone ahead since with many ending in bloodshed.

The church’s call for a new rally despite authorities bluntly saying it should not proceed saw some observers warn of renewed unrest.

“The demonstrations on Sunday in Congo could be the largest since 2016,” tweeted analyst Jason Stearns, a DR Congo expert at New York University’s Canter on International Cooperation.

“All major opposition parties, civil society, youth movements, and the Catholic Church have all backed peaceful demonstrations,” Stearns added.

Elections were due to take place by the end of this year under a church-mediated deal aimed at avoiding more violence in a vast, mineral-rich country which has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

After multiple postponements officially due to violence in the Kasai region the delayed poll is now scheduled for December 23 2018.