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Catholic bishops in DRC call for elections

Kinshasa, DR Congo | AFP |

An influential grouping of Catholic bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo called for elections to be held on schedule this year and for President Joseph Kabila to step down when his second term ends.

Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, is mandated to leave office in December. But in May the Constitutional Court said he could remain in power if a presidential election is not organised in time, which the opposition has accused him of deliberately delaying.

“It is imperative that we respect the constitution”, especially concerning “the number and duration of mandates of the president of the Republic,” priest Leonard Santedi, head of the National Bishops Conference of Congo, said at a press conference in Kinshasa on Monday.

He appealed to the DRC’s leaders to “accept the transfer of power as fundamental in a democracy”.

“Blocking the electoral process” creates a “worrying situation which risks plunging the country into chaos,” he said, adding that it was the “responsibility of the political leaders” .

In a message published after their annual meeting, the bishops deplored the human rights violations and the “deteriorating socio-economic and security situation” in the country, especially in areas like eastern DRC which are plagued with rival militias.

“The people see themselves as being sacrificed on the altar of the politicians’ interests,” it said.

Kabila is widely believed to be eyeing a third term in office, but the opposition has warned that if he stays in power beyond December 19 when his second term runs out, it would be tantamount to a “constitutional coup d’etat”.

On Friday Kabila promised to organise elections but gave no indication of when they will be held.

Last week, embattled DR Congo opposition leader Moise Katumbi, who last month quit the country ostensibly for medical treatment, was sentenced to three years in jail Wednesday over a real estate dispute.

Katumbi, a football magnate, was seen as the leading challenger to President Joseph Kabila in elections due to be held this year, but the sentence effectively makes him ineligible to stand.

A three-judge tribunal in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s second biggest city in the southeast of the country, rendered the decision against Katumbi on a day marked by twists and turns in the case.

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