KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Military and police deployed across Congo’s capital on Monday amid fears of unrest on the last official day of President Joseph Kabila’s mandate. He intends to stay on after the midnight deadline; a court has ruled he can remain in power until new elections, now postponed indefinitely, are held.
At least 41 opposition members and activists were arrested in the eastern city of Goma, according to Human Rights Watch and local residents.
Anger has been growing since it became clear that the vote once set for November would not take place on time. Political talks between the ruling party and the opposition, mediated by the Catholic church, stalled over the weekend and are set to resume Wednesday.
Congolese officials have said more time is needed to update voter rolls and make other preparations. The ruling party has suggested holding the vote in April 2018. Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has said new elections must be held in 2017.
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The opposition has not officially called for demonstrations, though many observers expect people to take to the streets as they did in September, when the electoral commission failed to schedule the election. Human rights groups say more than 50 people died.
“We can’t demonstrate because of the police. They are patrolling and searching people,” Jean Eva, an unemployed young man, said Monday. “Tonight it’s the end of Kabila’s mandate. At midnight, we are going to whistle to mark the end of the match. We’ll whistle from our homes, in front of our doors. Lots of people got whistles.”
At the University of Kinshasa, the military was deployed around an exit leading to the town center, but crowds still gathered.
In Goma, activists tried to build barricades but were quickly dispersed by police.
“We’ll keep trying to protest with the means we have, but the military deployment is truly imposing,” said Luc Nkulula, an activist with pro-democracy group Lucha.
Police spokesman and North Kivu deputy commissioner Col. Van Kasongo confirmed the arrests, saying the protesters “were disturbing public order and had thrown stones at police vehicles.”
Separately, more than a dozen opposition members have been arrested in the last few days in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, according to Human Rights Watch. Two activists went missing Friday, the organization said.
This sprawling central African nation, which has suffered decades of dictatorship and back-to-back civil wars, has never had a peaceful transfer of power. Kabila came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Saturday that concerns about unrest are high, especially since “no one to date has been held accountable” for the protesters’ deaths in September.
Also Monday, at least seven people including attackers, a peacekeeper and a policeman were killed after an armed group raided Butembo’s central prison in North Kivu to free prisoners, according to police spokesman Kasongo.
Mineral-rich eastern Congo has seen a surge in activities by armed groups in recent months.
Associated Press writer Saleh Mwanamilongo contributed to this report.