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25.05.2016 Congo

DRCongo opposition group vows to defy protest bans

Demonstrations have been prohibited by authorities in DR Congo's restive North Kivu province in the east and in the second city of Lubumbashi in the south.  By Junior Kannah (AFP/File)Demonstrations have been prohibited by authorities in DR Congo's restive North Kivu province in the east and in the second city of Lubumbashi in the south. By Junior Kannah (AFP/File)

Kinshasa (AFP) - A Democratic Republic of Congo opposition group, angered by a court decision to let President Joseph Kabila remain in office beyond his term, on Wednesday vowed to hold nationwide protests in defiance of bans imposed in some regions.

"To publicly protest with strict adherence to the law is an inalienable right granted under our Constitution," the Citizens' Front, said in a statement.

Demonstrations have been prohibited by authorities in the central African country's restive North Kivu province in the east and in the second city of Lubumbashi in the south.

Nonetheless the Citizens' Front group said it would hold nationwide marches on Thursday to protest the Constitutional Court's ruling this month that Kabila can remain in a caretaker capacity beyond the expiry of his term in December.

The opposition group called the court's decision an "attempt at a constitutional coup d'etat by which the judiciary, under orders from political powers, has shamefully violated the law".

Kabila, who took power following his father's assassination in 2001, was elected president in 2006 and 2011 but is constitutionally barred from standing for a third term.

Political unrest has plagued the country for months, with concerns mounting at home and abroad that Kabila will delay elections due to be held late this year at the end of his second five-year mandate.

The president's supporters want the election delayed for two to four years, citing logistical and financial difficulties, but the opposition accuses Kabila of planning to amend the constitution in order to extend his rule.

- Counter-demonstration -

Three opposition groups, Dynamic, G7, and the Citizens' Front, had called for protests, in the capital Kinshasa and elsewhere.

So far only Citizens' Front has declared that it will defy the regional protest bans.

Julien Paluku, governor of violence-wracked North Kivu, told a press conference that no public rallies would be permitted in the province.

He said after 20 years of unrest in the region, it was not appropriate for people to take to the streets.

"North Kivu is in mourning", Paluku said. "According to our traditions, we don't mourn our dead by protesting in the streets."

He also justified the ban by claiming that the opposition groups calling for the demonstrations "do not legally exist."

The mayor of Lubumbashi insisted that the ban on demonstrations in his municipality must be observed.

"The decision of the constitutional court is unassailable," mayor Jean Oscar Sanguza told AFP.

Lubumbashi, the country's second city and its mining capital, is the stronghold of powerful opposition figure Moise Katumbi. The 51-year-old businessman is also Kabila's leading rival for the country's top job.

However he has been charged with undermining state security and is currently in South Africa for medical treatment.

In the capital Kinshasa, President Kabila's supporters plan to mount a counter-demonstration on Thursday.

On Tuesday, the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed "worry" over the "mounting pressure" faced by the opposition and civil society in DRC since the beginning of the year.

Referring to the country's documented recent history of human rights violations of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, the UN body demanded that the Congolese government allow Thursday's planned rallies to take place.

It also asked the country to "make sure authorities did not resort to unnecessary and excessive use of force during the demonstrations."