KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo's long-delayed presidential vote cannot take place until 2019 despite a deal with the opposition that it would occur this year, a top election official said Wednesday.
The opposition immediately called the move a power grab, accusing President Joseph Kabila of seeking to extend his rule. There had been indications the election would be pushed back to 2018, but the new announcement escalated an already tense situation in the vast Central African nation.
Kabila's mandate ended in December, but a court has ruled that he can stay in office until the next election. The delay has been met with sometimes deadly protests in the capital, Kinshasa, and other major cities in the country of more than 77 million people.
Observers have warned that the tensions threaten both the mineral-rich nation and the continent at large.
Electoral commission president Corneille Nangaa cited deadly violence in central Congo for the latest delay. He says voter registration in the turbulent region is expected to last until January, and officials would need 504 days after that to prepare for the vote. That timeframe pushes the election date back to 2019.
"For us it's very clear that what (the electoral commission) is saying is just the plan of President Kabila, who wants to stay in power," said Christophe Lutundula, a member of the opposition coalition known as the Rassemblement. "We know the man, his methods and his strategies."
Kabila took power in 2001 after the assassination of his father.
In his address to the U.N. annual gathering of world leaders last month, Kabila reiterated his commitment to holding elections but did not specify a date.
As the U.N. Security Council discussed Congo on Wednesday, French Ambassador Francois Delattre said members "expect a speedy publication of the electoral timetable."
Delattre said the Dec. 31 agreement between Congo's government and opposition, brokered by the Catholic church, has been "very much delayed and the Security Council has repeatedly stressed the urgency faced by (Congo)."
That last-minute deal called for the election to be organized by the end of 2017, though some expressed doubt from the start about whether that timeframe was possible.
The opposition suffered a major setback not long after the deal when their iconic leader Etienne Tshisekedi died in Belgium from an apparent pulmonary embolism.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.