Congo opposition head breaks silence on upcoming elections

AP News
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Posted: Jul 01, 2016 12:36 PM

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Congo's presidential opposition candidate has spoken out for the first time since leaving the country in May for medical reasons, criticizing President Joseph Kabila for not promising that elections will be on time or that he will step down.

Moise Katumbi released a speech late Thursday saying Congo "remains plunged into a serious political, economic and social crisis," though he had hope.

The opposition has expressed concern that the election set for November will be delayed so that Kabila will stay in power longer. This is the president's second and final term under constitutional limits.

In a speech Wednesday, Kabila said voter registration would begin this month. He also warned politicians against any bid to destabilize Congo, which has never had a peaceful transfer of power. He said some Congolese wanted him to stay on.

Katumbi called the president's speech a missed opportunity, saying the uncertainty it created "instead may instead plunge our country into a deeper crisis."

He reassured supporters that a united opposition will ensure a democratic, peaceful and transparent transition of power, and he welcomed a meeting of opposition parties in Belgium last month.

The U.N. Security Council has urged timely elections in Congo while expressing concern over arrests and detentions of opposition members.

Congo authorities last month sentenced Katumbi to three years in prison in absentia, along with a $1 million fine, on allegations he falsely acquired a building. Katumbi called the charges fabricated, saying the trial was conducted to prevent his candidacy. Authorities also issued an arrest warrant on charges he hired mercenaries to protect him.

"Neither false convictions, nor harassment, nor physical abuse will shake my determination," Katumbi said.