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DRC stifles anti-Kabila protest

27 January 2015, 09:17

Kinshasa - A call by the Congolese opposition for peaceful demonstrations to oust President Joseph Kabila went unheeded on Monday as authorities maintained a crippling block on text messages and social networks used to rally demonstrators.

Only about 50 people gathered at the headquarters of veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi's Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UPDS) in the capital Kinshasa, despite the party calling for mass protests.

The small crowd dispersed shortly before midday (11:00 GMT) when several jeeploads of police arrived at the scene after authorities warned no opposition demonstrations would be permitted, AFP correspondents said.

The tropical city of 10 million people was mostly quiet on Monday, a week after bloody protests over an electoral bill seen as enabling Kabila to hang onto power beyond the end of his mandate in 2016.

Following a Senate amendment, both house of parliament agreed on Sunday to drop a controversial provision in the bill making any presidential poll contingent on a new voters' roll being drawn up after a census - a process that had been expected to take years.

But the final text of the legislation still leaves uncertainty over the timing of a series of elections in the troubled central African nation, including whether presidential polls will be held by the end of Kabila's second five-year term next year.

The bill sparked violent clashes between police and protesters in which 42 people were killed and dozens wounded, according to rights monitors.

The government denied that that demonstrators were killed by police, saying 11 looters were shot dead by private security guards and that a police officer was also killed.

Reacting to the violence, Tshisekedi, who has headed the opposition since the 1960-1997 regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, urged the Congolese people to take to the streets to oust Kabila's "dying regime".

Tshisekedi, 82, who is currently in Belgium for medical treatment, has accused Kabila's regime of flouting the constitution and engaging in acts of "provocation" that "risks installing a climate of generalised chaos."

Telecomms clampdown

On Monday, residents in Kinshasa were still barred from using mobile phones to send text messages or connect to the internet, part of a telecommunications clampdown imposed last week.

But life in the city had otherwise returned to normal, with schools reopened and the streets bustling with people and traffic.

The police and military presence around parliament - focal point of last week's demonstrations - had also been scaled back.

The constitution bans Kabila from seeking re-election after two five-year terms.

Yet the law passed on Sunday still raises thorny issues in the vast, mineral-rich country, whose eastern provinces have been rocked by years of militia violence.

The state has less than two years to organise four sets of elections: local and provincial votes due this year, and then parliamentary polls and the presidential in 2016.

"The timetable is starting to get tighter and tighter," warned Thierry Vircoulon, central African project director for the International Crisis Group (ICG).

A diplomatic source predicted that, despite the concessions on the electoral bill, "hardliners in the regime will start again at the first chance they get" to try to keep Kabila in power.

Reception of Radio France Internationale (RFI) was scrambled Monday morning in Kinshasa.

Last week, the authorities suspended the French radio's broadcasts across DR Congo for 24 hours in the wake of Tshisekedi's call for demonstrations.



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