Clashes erupt in DRC ahead of crunch talks
02 September 2016, 23:23
Kinshasa - Police and protesters clashed Thursday in the Democratic Republic of Congo's sprawling capital Kinshasa ahead of crunch talks aimed at avoiding political chaos when the president's term expires later this year.
Tensions have been growing in mineral-rich but troubled DRC over fears that President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, will try to extend his rule with a third term, beyond the constitutional maximum of two.
Riot police and young protesters opposed to the dialogue scheduled for Thursday clashed near the site of a trade fair in the heart of the city, leaving the location in ruins, said Patrick Mulumba, a local resident.
For nearly an hour, protesters hurled stones as police fired tear gas in Lemba, disrupting traffic and businesses in the usually bustling district, said a fuel station attendant, who witnessed the clash.
Protesters chanted slogans against Kabila, who had first proposed a national dialogue in November 2015, the witness, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
They also chanted down former Togo premier Edem Kodjo, who has been named by the African Union as the talks' "facilitator", he added.
Protests also erupted near the University of Kinshasa and on an avenue near the seat of parliament, where the head offices of several opposition parties are located, witnesses said.- Boycott -
An AFP journalist saw hundreds of angry youths still gathered in the area, as the scheduled start of talks loomed.
While the government delegation was still set to take part, only a minority of the opposition will be represented.
Once fractured opposition groups recently came together in a new coalition - "Rassemblement" (Gathering).
They have vowed to stay away from the negotiating table until political prisoners are released and legal action is halted against wealthy businessman and presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi.
Katumbi was tried in absentia in June for real estate fraud and sentenced to three years in jail.
While the courts have approved Katumbi's seeking medical treatment abroad they say he will be detained upon his return and could face additional charges of recruiting mercenaries.
The presiding judge in the fraud case has since said the authorities pressured her into signing off on a guilty verdict to ensure Katumbi would be ineligible to run.
Thursday's violence disrupted public transport, and bus stops in flashpoint districts were packed.
"What do they want now? Let them go to the talks instead of bothering us," civil servant Berthe Nzinga said, adding she had spent an hour waiting for her bus.