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DR Congo tense ahead of key talks on Kabila’s future

A man stands next to a stall selling Congolese national football team teeshirts in Kinshasa, on December 21, 2016. At least 11 people died as gunfire erupted during protests on December 20, 2016 in Democratic Republic of Congo against longtime President Joseph Kabila, who is refusing to leave office as his mandate ends. Tension has been mounting for months in DR Congo ahead of the December 20 deadline for Kabila's second and final term in office to end. / AFP PHOTO / Eduardo Soteras

A man stands next to a stall selling Congolese national football team teeshirts in Kinshasa, on December 21, 2016.<br />At least 11 people died as gunfire erupted during protests on December 20, 2016 in Democratic Republic of Congo against longtime President Joseph Kabila, who is refusing to leave office as his mandate ends. Tension has been mounting for months in DR Congo ahead of the December 20 deadline for Kabila’s second and final term in office to end. / AFP PHOTO / Eduardo Soteras

Tension ran high in DR Congo Wednesday, with police out in force in the capital and activity slowed following deadly protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down as his mandate ends.

Life very slowly resumed in Kinshasa, a megacity of 10 million, with few buses and taxis on the streets at morning rush-hour, trading slack at the market, and troops and police posted at major crossroads.

A day after at least 11 people died in street protests, eyes were on talks due to resume Wednesday that were launched by the Catholic Church in hopes of finding a peaceful way out of the political crisis.

Kabila’s second and final term in office ran out Tuesday with no election on the near horizon and no sign of plans to leave power any time soon.

So far the mainstream opposition has called for “peaceful resistance” from Democratic Republic of Congo’s 70 million people in hopes of clinching a deal at the negotiating table.

But gunfire rang out across the vast and troubled nation as protests erupted Tuesday.

Officials said nine people had died in Kinshasa and two in the country’s second-largest city, Lubumbashi.

Rights group Human Rights Watch said at least 26 protesters had been killed countrywide.

A day after the UN’s large DR Congo mission, MONUSCO, voiced alarm over the detention of 113 opposition leaders and civil society activists in just four days, there were fresh arrests in eastern Goma.

In what Kabila’s opponents dubbed “a provocation”, a new government was announced overnight Monday to Tuesday, headed by Samy Badibanga.

The freshly appointed cabinet is part of an October deal struck between the ruling party and tiny fringe opposition groups enabling Kabila to remain in office pending elections in April 2018.

– ‘Peaceful resistance’ –
However, the main opposition bloc headed by 84-year-old Etienne Tshisekedi rejects the plan. It wants elections next year — along with a pledge that Kabila will not stand.

Kabila, 45, who has ruled since 2001, is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term but under a controversial recent constitutional court order, he may stay on until a successor is chosen.

In a YouTube video, Tshisekedi launched “a solemn appeal to the Congolese people to no longer recognise the authority of Mr. Joseph Kabila, to the international community to no longer deal with Joseph Kabila in the name of the Democratic Republic of Congo”.

He urged people “to peacefully resist the coup d’etat”.

The message was not available in DR Congo where authorities have since Sunday imposed strict controls on social media networks.

Tshisekedi said he hoped to continue the talks launched by the Catholic Church last week.

In Rome, Pope Francis appealed to the people of DR Congo to be “artisans of peace” at his weekly audience.

“May those who are in positions of political responsibility listen to the voice of their conscience, learn to see the cruel sufferings of their fellow citizens and have at heart the common good.”

DR Congo has never witnessed a democratic transfer of power following polls since independence from Belgium in 1960.

The president has been in office since his father Laurent Kabila’s assassination in 2001. He was elected in 2006, and again in 2011.

Some two decades ago, the country collapsed into the deadliest conflict in modern African history. Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s dragged in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead.

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DR CongoJoseph Kabila
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