What you need to know:
- Groups vow to stage nationwide protests in defiance of ban by the government.
Tensions are soaring in the Democratic Republic of Congo where President Joseph Kabila is turning up the pressure on an embattled yet defiant opposition ahead of planned protests today.
With Kabila’s powerful rival and football magnate Moïse Katumbi all but pushed into exile in South Africa, some dissidents in the vast central African country feel disillusioned.
A key dissident group, the Citizens’ Front, has vowed to hold nationwide protests today in defiance of a government ban.
Opposition groups called for the protests after the Constitutional Court ruled earlier this month that Kabila, in power since his father’s assassination in 2001, could remain in a caretaker capacity beyond the expiry of his second term in December.
With many dissidents seeing in Katumbi a rightful potential leader for the resource-rich country, the Citizens’ Front has defied the ban on protests in restive North Kivu province in the east and the second city of Lubumbashi in the south.
“To publicly protest with strict adherence to the law is an inalienable right granted under our constitution,” the group said.
Political unrest has plagued DR Congo for months over concerns that Kabila intends to extend his rule despite being legally barred from seeking a third term.
There are fears at home and abroad that Kabila will delay elections due to be held late this year.
The strongman’s supporters want the election delayed for two to four years due to logistical and financial difficulties, but the opposition accuses Kabila of planning to amend the constitution to extend his rule.
Two other opposition groups—Dynamic and G7—have also called for protests in the capital Kinshasa and elsewhere.
Despite opposition support for Katumbi, many rank-and-file dissidents are disappointed that he left the country on May 20, ostensibly to undergo treatment at a South African hospital. His departure came a day after he was charged with “threatening the internal and external security of the state”.
Katumbi’s followers say he was injured in clashes between police and thousands of his supporters in Lubumbashi on May 13, with a source saying he was suffering from “respiratory problems” after being teargassed.
But his detractors claim he is feigning medical problems.
“We are disappointed,” said Sangwa Masikini, 30, who lives in the poor Lubumbashi neighbourhood of Kenya, where anti-Kabila sentiment runs high. “It’s like a good football match being interrupted before the final whistle.”
Criticising the security forces’ heavy deployment in the district, a young mechanic told AFP on condition of anonymity: “Who will rescue us from their grip?”