, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Oct 19 – Congo’s normally bustling capital Kinshasa was shut down Wednesday by a strike to protest plans to extend the president’s stay in power beyond the end of his term in December, AFP journalists said.
Whilst the strike call was observed in the capital, where most shops were closed, there were few signs of stoppages in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s second largest city Lubumbashi. in the south.
But central Mbuji-Mayi, which is an opposition bastion, did come to a standstill.
The opposition had called for a nationwide protest against a deal signed Tuesday which would keep President Joseph Kabila in power until April 2018 by effectively postponing the presidential vote scheduled for this year.
The country’s main opposition party, the UDPS, called the deal signed between the authorities and fringe opposition groups a “flagrant violation” of the constitution and said the strike would show Kabila “the yellow card”.
Braving teeming rain, gaggles of youths in Kinshasa did just that.
“Today is just a warning. We are going to step up our actions until we reach our goal of not giving a single minute more to M. Kabila after December 19,” said Jean-Marc Kabund, UDPS general secretary.
Kabila first took office in 2001, and in 2006 a new constitutional provision limited the presidency to a two-term limit which expires on December 20.
In Kinshasa — a city of 10 million people — roads were virtually deserted with public transport running empty and no sign of the many privately-run shared taxis that normally ply the city’s roads.
The only visible commercial activity taking place was women selling bread and petrol stations that were open but unused.
The upmarket Gombe district was unusually quiet, and in Kasa-Vubu, a district in the south of the city, the only people on Victories Square were some 50 police officers.
– Heavy police presence –
Officers were deployed in force at other locations including parliament and at several military bases.
Police reported several incidents of protesters stoning vehicles or burning tyres. But the city remained mostly calm unlike at last month’s protests in which 49 civilians and four police were killed during violence, according to the UN.
Authorities there had warned early this week that civil servants who failed to show up for work on Wednesday would face consequences.
Calls for a strike were also ignored in Bukavu, according to an AFP correspondent there, as well as in northeastern Kisangani and in the country’s sole deep water port, Matadi.
However in Goma, eastern Congo, the call to down tools was followed to some extent, with most shops remaining closed though traffic appeared normal, according to two AFP journalists.
In central Kananga, another big town, activity slowed in the morning while in the western town of Mbandaka people headed for work, albeit wearing yellow as a sign of protest.
At Goma on the Rwandan border traffic was about normal but most shops stayed closed while some 200 protesters urged Kabila to understand that “(your) mandate is finished! You must go!”
In Lubumbashi, however, Kyungu Kabulo, a money changer, told AFP that, while “we agree with opposition, I have a large family to support,” requiring him to carry on working.
This week’s controversial agreement to allow Kabila to serve into 2018 emerged after the EU threatened sanctions if the country did not hold elections in 2017.
It was concluded at “national dialogue” talks aimed at reducing tensions triggered by disquiet that the president wants to remain indefinitely.
But the main opposition coalition — “Rassemblement” (Gathering) — headed by veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi boycotted the talks, branding them a ploy by Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of his term.