ALL-NIGHT TALKS FAIL TO REACH DR CONGO DEAL

Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila re­fus­ing to quit power

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Hopes of a deal to end DR Congo’s dan­ger­ous po­lit­i­cal cri­sis be­fore Christ­mas were fal­ter­ing yes­ter­day af­ter fruit­less all-night talks over Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s re­fusal to quit power. Ka­bila’s sec­ond and fi­nal five-year term ended on De­cem­ber 20, but he has shown no in­ten­tion of leav­ing of­fice soon, spark­ing vi­o­lent protests that have left at least 40 peo­ple dead this week, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

The in­flu­en­tial Catholic Church has been bro­ker­ing talks be­tween the govern­ment and op­po­si­tion and hopes rose this week of an im­mi­nent deal, with a draft seen by AFP out­lin­ing plans for fresh elec­tions at the end of next year, when Ka­bila would step down. But that op­ti­mism has been slip­ping, and ne­go­tia­tors from the two camps left church of­fices in Kin­shasa just be­fore 5:30 am (0430 GMT) with­out a deal to pre­vent a fresh de­scent into con­flict in a coun­try that has suf­fered two hor­rific wars since 1996.

“The work is prac­ti­cally fin­ished-the fi­nal touches are all that is left to do be­fore the deal is signed,” in­sisted Mar­cel Utembi, pres­i­dent of the Congo Na­tional Epis­co­pal Con­fer­ence (CENCO), who had pushed for a deal be­fore Christ­mas. But oth­ers in­di­cated there was still a long way to go. “Ev­ery­thing is still blocked on how (public af­fairs) will be man­aged dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod,” said op­po­si­tion del­e­gate Fran­cois Muamba. Two op­po­si­tion del­e­gates said the squab­bling sides could re­turn to the ta­ble yes­ter­day morn­ing, but there was no con­fir­ma­tion from CENCO. Ne­go­tia­tors from Ka­bila’s po­lit­i­cal al­liance were re­main­ing tight-lipped.

A frus­trated CENCO of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, blasted DR Congo’s po­lit­i­cal class for “se­ri­ous medi­ocrity” in their in­abil­ity to reach a deal. “They have called into ques­tion ev­ery­thing we ar­ranged the day be­fore,” the of­fi­cial said as talks stretched into the night. Time is press­ing as the bish­ops over­see­ing the talks are due to quit the cap­i­tal yes­ter­day af­ter­noon to re­turn to their con­gre­ga­tions in time for Christ­mas Eve mass.

Ten­sions are still run­ning high, with se­cu­rity forces spray­ing live am­mu­ni­tion at a string of anti-Ka­bila protests in Kin­shasa and other towns this week, killing at least 40 civil­ians, ac­cord­ing to the UN. Con­golese po­lice put the toll at 20 dead, say­ing they had largely been killed in “loot­ing” or by “stray bul­lets”. Other sources say some­where be­tween 56 and 125 peo­ple have been killed in a week of clashes, not count­ing the un­known toll from fight­ing be­tween se­cu­rity forces and an anti-govern­ment mili­tia in the central town of Kananga.

Ka­bila, 45, has been in power since the 2001 as­sas­si­na­tion of his fa­ther Lau­rent at the height of the Sec­ond Congo War. He was con­firmed as leader of the min­eral-rich na­tion in 2006 dur­ing the first free elec­tions since in­de­pen­dence from Bel­gium in 1960, and re-elected for a sec­ond term in 2011 in a vote marred by al­le­ga­tions of mas­sive fraud.

Con­sti­tu­tion­ally banned from seek­ing a third term, he ob­tained a con­tro­ver­sial court rul­ing in May stat­ing that he could re­main in power un­til a suc­ces­sor was cho­sen. DR Congo has never seen a demo­cratic trans­fer of power fol­low­ing polls since in­de­pen­dence from Bel­gium in 1960. Two decades ago, the coun­try col­lapsed into the dead­li­est con­flict in mod­ern African his­tory. Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s pulled in at least six African armies and left more than three mil­lion dead. — AFP

KIN­SHASA: This file photo taken on De­cem­ber 20, 2016 shows a child star­ing at the marks of burnt tyres fol­low­ing a protest in the Ling­wala neigh­bor­hood. — AFP

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