UN warns DR Congo on eve of protest rallies

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The United Nations on Tuesday called on Democratic Republic of Congo’s government to allow peaceful demonstrations on the eve of expected protests against President Joseph Kabila.

In a statement, the UN peacekeeping mission Monusco urged the authorities “to respect the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Congolese Constitution, including freedom of assembly and of demonstration.”

The authorities, it said, should “instruct defence and security forces to respect the principles of necessity, proportionality and legality, consistent with international standards.”

Mineral-rich but chronically poor, politically unstable and saddled with a reputation for entrenched corruption, the Democratic Republic of Congo faces a feared flare-up of violence over Kabila’s decision to stay in office.

He was scheduled to have stepped down in December 2016 after a constitutional maximum of two terms in office.

But as protests and a bloody crackdown swelled, a deal was brokered by the Catholic church enabling him to stay in office pending elections to be held by the end of 2017.

The country’s election body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), blames the delay on compiling an electoral roll in parts of the sprawling country that have been troubled by unrest.

Pressured by the international community, led by the United States, the ballot will be held on December 23 2018, according to a CENI announcement on November 5.

A large part of the country’s political opposition, along with grassroots groups such as Lucha and Filimba, have scheduled rallies on Wednesday to protest against the 2018 date.

Demonstrations against Kabila have been met with a heavy police response since September 2016.

Clashes in the eastern city of Goma in October left four civilians and a policeman dead and scores of activists were arrested.

The Monusco statement also reminded citizens “that the right to demonstrate implies abstaining from resorting to any form of violence.”

Kabila took over as president in January 2001 in wartime after the death of his father, Laurent Kabila, who was assassinated. He was first elected for a five-year term in 2006.

Under DRC’s constitution, he is banned from seeking a third mandate, but is authorised to stay in office until his successor is elected.