France says EU ties with Congo must be reviewed, fears escalation

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2016 6:19 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - France called on the European Union to re-examine its relations with Democratic Republic of Congo, fearing that President Joseph Kabila's decision not to step down after his mandate expired could stoke conflict.

Security forces shot dead several protesters who had gathered in the streets of the capital Kinshasa on Tuesday to demand that Kabila step down after his mandate expired overnight.

"Everything has been done and done again these last days and hours to encourage dialogue," Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters alongside new Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano. "We need to be clear. There comes a time when if nothing happens, then Europe must reconsider the level of relations with this country. We can't continue to pretend as if nothing is happening."

International powers fear that Kabila's refusal to leave power on Dec. 19, as required by the constitution, could lead to widespread violence after security forces killed about 50 people in anti-government protests in September.

"We really don't want this country to fall into chaos - (we want) that it is saved from a terrible civil war," Ayrault said.

The European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes earlier this month - its first - on seven senior Congo security officials it says have violated human rights and helped disrupt elections.

Diplomats said further sanctions could be a possibility as well as reviewing all aspects of relations between Congo and the bloc.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta/Ruth Pitchford)