DR Congo opposition calls for general strike to make Kabila stand down


Opposition leaders in Democratic Republic of Congo called for a general strike next Tuesday to press President Joseph Kabila to step down when his mandate expires at the end of the year.

The decision represents a retreat from earlier plans for a mass pro-democracy march after the powerful Catholic church pulled its support last month, saying the event had been co-opted by political interests.

Kabila succeeded his assassinated father in 2001 and won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011. Critics accuse him of trying to skirt constitutional term limits and stay in power by delaying a presidential election slated for November. Dozens died in Jan. 2015 in protests over the issue.
“We are called upon to stay at home, to not go to work and to not send our children to school,” opposition leader Charles Mwando Simba told reporters in the capital, Kinshasa, flanked by leaders from most major opposition parties.

Kabila has refused to comment on his future and has appealed for dialogue to resolve difficulties in organising this year’s voting. The opposition rejects dialogue as a delaying tactic and says protest is needed to force Kabila to hold a presidential vote this year.

The election commission took a step on Wednesday toward restarting the process by rescheduling elections for interim provincial governors for March 26, commission spokesman Jean-Pierre Kalamba told Reuters.

Local, provincial and national elections, originally slated for 2015 and 2016, could not be held until new governors were installed, Congo’s highest court ruled last September. The consequent delays after that ruling threw the entire election schedule into disarray.

Kalamba did not say when an election calendar with the presidential poll would be released. The commission plans to update voter rolls before national elections, a process it has said could take 13 to 16 months.

Also on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch urged the U.S. government to impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on Congolese officials responsible for what it called a violent crackdown on Kabila’s election critics.

In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, U.S. Special Envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region, Tom Perriello, said Washington is considering “measures including sanctions to hold accountable individuals who threaten the peace and security of the DRC.”