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Military deployed across Congo as fears of unrest grow

Congolese police patrol in Kinshasa, Congo (AP Photo/John Bompengo)

Military and police deployed across Congo’s capital on Monday amid fears of unrest on the last official day of President Joseph Kabila’s mandate.

He intends to stay on after the midnight deadline, said a presidential adviser, who also advised there is “no possibility” of elections in 2017.

At least 41 opposition members and activists were arrested in the eastern city of Goma on Monday, according to Human Rights Watch and local residents.

Anger has been growing since it became clear that the vote once set for November would not take place on time. Political talks between the ruling party and the opposition, mediated by the Catholic church, stalled over the weekend and are set to resume Wednesday.

Congolese officials have said more time is needed to update voter rolls and make other preparations.

“There is no possibility, given the immense logistical and financial challenges we face today that the elections will happen for at very least a year,” Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, the president’s diplomatic adviser, said on Monday.

Karubi said it was unconstitutional to demand that President Kabila leave office at midnight.

“The constitution clearly states that the president remains in his position until his successor is elected by the people of the Congo, not by a loud and insistent mob,” he said.

A court has ruled that Kabila can remain in power until new elections.

The ruling party has suggested holding the vote in April 2018. Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has said new elections must be held in 2017.

The opposition has not officially called for demonstrations, though many observers expect people to take to the streets as they did in September, when the electoral commission failed to schedule the election. Human rights groups say more than 50 people died.

“We can’t demonstrate because of the police. They are patrolling and searching people,” Jean Eva, an unemployed young man, said Monday. “Tonight it’s the end of Kabila’s mandate. At midnight, we are going to whistle to mark the end of the match. We’ll whistle from our homes, in front of our doors. Lots of people got whistles.”

At the University of Kinshasa, the military was deployed around an exit leading to the town centre, but crowds still gathered.

In Goma, activists tried to build barricades but were quickly dispersed by police.

“We’ll keep trying to protest with the means we have, but the military deployment is truly imposing,” said Luc Nkulula, an activist with pro-democracy group Lucha.

Police spokesman and North Kivu deputy commissioner Col. Van Kasongo confirmed the arrests, saying the protesters “were disturbing public order and had thrown stones at police vehicles.”

Separately, more than a dozen opposition members have been arrested in the last few days in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, according to Human Rights Watch. Two activists went missing Friday, the organisation said.

This sprawling central African nation, which has suffered decades of dictatorship and back-to-back civil wars, has never had a peaceful transfer of power. Kabila came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father.

Monday marks the end of Kabila’s second elected five-year term. Though he is barred by the constitution from running for a third term, the constitutional court in May said the president should remain in office until a new leader is elected.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Saturday that concerns about unrest are high, especially since “no one to date has been held accountable” for the protesters’ deaths in September.

Also Monday, at least seven people including attackers, a peacekeeper and a policeman were killed after an armed group raided Butembo’s central prison in North Kivu to free prisoners, according to police spokesman Kasongo.

Mineral-rich eastern Congo has seen a surge in activities by armed groups in recent months.

Protests were also seen in Cape Town, South Africa, where police used stun grenades to disperse about 200 people who were protesting against Kabila, some draped in Congolese flags, local media reported.