Police fired tear gas Monday at scores of opposition supporters rallying in Kinshasa to demand that DR Congo’s long-serving President Joseph Kabila step down this year, AFP journalists said.
The police action came after youths shouting “Kabila get out”, and “Kabila has to go”, threw stones at police on Lumumba boulevard, an arterial avenue in the heart of the city.
They waved the blue-and-white flags of veteran Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, 83, who returned to DR Congo in July after a two-year absence.
Prior to the clashes, opposition activists also burnt a photograph of the leader and torched a minibus and a car in the Limete quarter, from where the demonstration was due to start at 1:00pm (1200 GMT).
Kabila, who has ruled DR Congo since 2001, is banned under the constitution from running again — but he has given no sign of intending to give up his job in December.
No elections have been announced and it would be practically impossible to organise a poll in the time left before his mandate runs out.
Protests erupted after the Constitutional Court ruled in May that Kabila, who took power after his father Laurent Kabila’s assassination, could remain in office in a caretaker capacity beyond the end of the mandate.
Tshisekedi is an immensely popular figure who emerged as a leading dissenting voice as far back as the 1980s, when he was a critic of strongman Mobutu Sese Seko.
He has now accomplished the rare feat of uniting the Congolese opposition, which has never before managed to forge a common front against Kabila, who beat Tshisekedi in the last presidential election in 2011.
In June, another leading light of the opposition, Moise Katumbi, was sentenced in absentia to three years in jail for property fraud.
The presiding judge in the case has since claimed she was pressured by the authorities into signing off on a guilty verdict, to ensure Katumbi would be ineligible to run for office, according to a letter seen by AFP.
The UN on Friday said at least 16 opposition activists had been detained in Kinshasa after meeting to discuss how to stop Kabila illegally prolonging his stay in power.
Rights group Amnesty International had on Thursday accused authorities in mineral-rich DR Congo of “systematic repression” of those seeking Kabila’s departure when his third term runs out on December 20.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said he was surprised by the accusations, adding that authorities had freed several political prisoners in August.