DRC sum­mit to avoid poll chaos opens de­spite no-shows

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

KINSHASA — A long-awaited “na­tional di­a­logue” to avert po­lit­i­cal chaos opened in Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo on Thurs­day de­spite the ab­sence of many op­po­si­tion fig­ures who de­scribed the event as a gov­ern­ment “trap”.

The crunch talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion groups are aimed at avert­ing a cri­sis when Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s term ex­pires later this year as fears grow that he will try to stay in power for a third term

Pro­test­ers clashed with po­lice near the talks as they were opened by African Union me­di­a­tor Edem Kodjo. The talks will last for two weeks. “I didn’t come here to serve par­ti­san causes, I came here to serve DRC,” said Kodjo, a for­mer To­golese prime min­is­ter.

While some op­po­si­tion fig­ures joined the gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety groups for the event, a newly-formed op­po­si­tion coali­tion — “Rassem­ble­ment” (Gath­er­ing) — did not.

The coali­tion said it would not take part in the di­a­logue un­til po­lit­i­cal prison­ers were re­leased and le­gal ac­tion against wealthy busi­ness­man and pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Moise Ka­tumbi was halted.

Ka­tumbi was tried in ab­sen­tia in June for real es­tate fraud and sen­tenced to three years in jail.

While a court ap­proved Ka­tumbi trav­el­ling abroad to seek med­i­cal treat­ment, au­thor­i­ties say he will be de­tained if he re­turns and could also face charges of re­cruit­ing mer­ce­nar­ies.

The pre­sid­ing judge in the fraud case has since said that au­thor­i­ties pres­sured her into en­dors­ing a guilty ver­dict to en­sure Ka­tumbi would be in­el­i­gi­ble to run.

“We are here to talk about DRC... we must dis­cuss the or­gan­i­sa­tion of elec­tions for a demo­cratic tran­si­tion here and now,” said Vi­tal Kamerhe who headed up the op­po­si­tion del­e­ga­tion at the talks.

Ma­man Sidikou, the head of the UN’s mis­sion in DRC, said that “democ­racy re­mains the only route out of the cur­rent im­passe. The al­ter­na­tive is vi­o­lence, de­struc­tion and the deaths of in­no­cent civil­ians”.

Po­lice fired tear­gas and were pelted with stones dur­ing vi­o­lent clashes in the cap­i­tal Kinshasa that lasted al­most an hour.

Ten­sion has been build­ing for months in the vast min­eral-rich na­tion of 71 mil­lion over fears that Ka­bila will fol­low in the foot­steps of neigh­bour­ing heads of state and change the con­sti­tu­tion to ex­tend his rule into a third term.

The coun­try’s high­est court ear­lier this year ruled that Ka­bila could stay in of­fice be­yond the sched­uled De­cem­ber date if no elec­tion were held.

Un­der the con­sti­tu­tion Ka­bila must call elec­tions three months be­fore the end of his term on De­cem­ber 20. — AFP

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