, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec 31 – Catholics in crisis-torn Democratic Republic of Congo vowed Saturday to defy a protest ban and hold a “peaceful march” Sunday to urge implementation of a deal for President Joseph Kabila to leave office and for delayed elections.
Kabila has been in power since 2001 when he succeeded his assassinated father Laurent Kabila and refused to step down at the end of his second and final term in December 2016.
That refusal led to protests and a bloody crackdown. Demonstrations have been banned or else widely repressed since September 2016 but several have nonetheless gone ahead with many ending in bloodshed in recent months.
Elections had been due to take place by the end of this year under a church-mediated deal aimed at avoiding more violence in a vast, mineral-rich country which has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
The delayed poll is now scheduled for December 23 next year, heightening tensions in the restive nation.
About 150 Catholic churches have urged believers to heed their call to protest, bibles in hand, Sunday in the capital Kinshasa and demand implementation of a deal signed exactly a year ago designed to restore stability with Kabila stepping down.
But Kinshasa’s governor insisted the unauthorised march could not go ahead.
“The city does not have sufficient numbers of police officers to supervise this march,” Andre Kimbuta said. “Therefore, I do not recognise the authorisation requested.”
Despite his stance, march spokeswoman Leonie Kandolo insisted that “lay people will march tomorrow (and) the city authority and the police must fulfil their role of protecting people and property.”
March organisers have asked worshippers to gather after morning mass and “take our destiny in hand — our beautiful country is suffering.”
But the authorities underlined their intent to quash the protest by taking off air for several hours a community radio station at Uvira in South-Kivu province after it broadcast a call for the rally, according to the station director.
In a letter to the governor, a secular coordinating committee had earlier insisted the agreement signed last New Year’s Eve is “the only viable road map” for holding credible elections.
Clinging on to power, Kabila is banned by the constitution from running for a third term, but the deal allows him to stay on until the next poll is held.
The opposition has meanwhile complained in recent days that electoral reforms “automatically” ban certain hopefuls from next year’s poll by setting a minimum vote share threshold a candidate must win to obtain a seat as well as demanding a deposit equivalent to several hundred dollars.