UN urges restraint in Kinshasa as opposition rally banned


Kinshasa (AFP)

The United Nations on Friday urged the Democratic Republic of Congo's government and the opposition to exercise restraint after officials banned an opposition rally in the capital Kinshasa set for Saturday.

"I would like to appeal to the organisers and their activists as well as to security forces in Kinshasa who are supposed to police this event to demonstrate restraint and responsibility," said a statement from UN envoy Maman Sambo Sidikou.

"Congolese from all sides must demonstrate patriotic fervour by upholding the supreme interest of the Democratic Republic of Congo by turning their backs on violence," he said.

The main dissident coalition Rassemblement (Gathering) -- which has rallied around veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi -- has called for a public meeting on Saturday to examine the "political issues of the day" at a site not far from the parliament building.

But following a wave of deadly political violence in September, city officials banned all unauthorised gatherings, with police vowing to enforce the ban.

DR Congo has been going through a prolonged political crisis which deepened last month after the presidential election, which had been due before the year's end, was postponed until April 2018.

The opposition has accused President Joseph Kabila, who has been in office since 2001, of manipulating the electoral system to stay in power after his second term ends on December 20.

A 2006 constitutional provision limits the presidency to two terms.

- Police vow firm line -

The decision to delay the vote was taken in October by the government and fringe opposition groups following a "national dialogue" aimed at calming such tensions.

But Rassemblement, which boycotted the talks, rejected the proposal as a "flagrant violation" of the constitution.

In its statement, the UN's MONUSCO mission said there had been "constructive contact" between the two sides at Kabila's request, with the mediation of Catholic bishops.

The police had on Thursday said they would ensure the ban on unauthorised political gatherings in Kinshasa was respected, saying that "no disturbances of the public order would be tolerated".

Its decision was taken after a wave of deadly violence in Kinshasa in mid-September when the security forces cracked down on demonstrators ahead of an anti-Kabila rally, sparking clashes that killed at least 53 people, according to UN figures.

In a statement released on Friday, government spokesman Lambert Mende urged the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) to avoid "fostering any confusion" about public demonstrations in Kinshasa.