DR Congo

Congo opposition holds rally under heavy security

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By David Lewis

KINSHASA, July 9 (Reuters) - Thousands of Congolese held an anti-government rally on Saturday over delays to elections meant to end a civil war, in a show of force watched closely by armed riot police after demonstrations turned to bloodshed last week.

Up to 20,000 students and activists carrying anti-government banners and palm fronds gathered outside by the main stadium in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, but refused to enter as the authorities wished, protesting outside instead.

They blasted out songs against President Joseph Kabila and members of his transition government, which includes former rebels under a South African-brokered peace plan designed to end years of war in the continent's third-biggest country.

Loud chants of "president, president" greeted Etienne Tshisekedi, head of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) who has led protests over poll delays.

Tshisekedi repeated his demand for the transition government to resign, saying it had failed.

He said Congo should revive a national conference whose 3,000-odd delegates drafted a doomed constitution to establish multi-party democracy in the early 1990s when Tshisekedi led the government under his old foe, late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

"There is a framework that was agreed by the real government of this country and not individuals that caused the deaths of 3 million people," Tshisekedi said of the conference.

The authorities granted permission for Tshisekedi's UDPS to hold Saturday's rally inside the stadium, though not for a street march. Around 1,000 activists travelled from the UDPS headquarters to the stadium but extra police stood guard outside government buildings and there was no sign of trouble.

STALLED ELECTIONS

A week ago, at least one person died when security forces fired bullets and teargas to disperse a protest. Local humanitarian and other groups have put the toll as high as 10.

Kabila denounced that demonstration as a bid to overturn the transition government and make elections impossible.

Elections had been due by June 30 but the government invoked the first of two possible six-month delays provided for under the 2003 peace deal, designed to end to years of warfare estimated to have killed around 4 million people, mainly through war-related hunger and disease in the mineral-rich nation.

The deal, backed by the United Nations' biggest peacekeeping force with 16,700 troops, has failed to end attacks by armed gangs in the east of the country and Tshisekedi has demanded the interim government resigns, accusing it of failure.

Tshisekedi accused foreign governments of helping Kabila stay in power -- a sentiment echoed by his supporters.

"Foreigners are supporting the dictators of this country. They are imposing them on us. We have never wanted violence but we may be forced into violence to get rid of these people," said UDPS-supporting businessman Pierre Omatuku.

"The whole world is crying for the British people that died in London. When will they start caring about peace and democracy in Congo?"

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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