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Sarkozy kicks off African tour in DR Congo

Video by Rachel MARUSAK , Damien COQUET

Text by Thomas HUBERT

Latest update : 2009-03-26

Sarkozy arrived in the DRC capital of Kinshasa on Thursday, starting a tour devoted to building a new Franco-African relationship. He will address the National Assembly, a day after its chairman Vital Kamerhe resigned.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's National Assembly will play host to Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, but its chairman will not be there to hear the French president's speech on the African Great Lakes region.

Vital Kamerhe resigned on Wednesday after the majority loyal to President Joseph Kabila disowned him – just in time to calm things down in the assembly before Sarkozy gets there.

Kamerhe had dared to criticise the agreement struck during the parliamentary recess in January by Kabila and the Rwandan government to conduct joint military operations in eastern DRC.

“My political family judged that I had committed a crime of lèse-majesté,” the chairman of the National Assembly told parliamentarians and members of the public made edgy by a three-hour wait.

Assembly member Ernest Jean-Louis Kyaviro, who supports the presidential majority, initiated a petition to obtain a parliamentary debate on military operations in the east of the country. He kept his job.

“We want to be able to discuss issues that concern the Congolese people in the National Assembly without it being regarded as heresy,” he said Wednesday.

While the details of the drama's final act were being decided backstage, crowds filled a house that looks every bit like a theatre, with a stage framed by red velvet curtains, terraced seats and a balcony.

The prospect of intense conflict at the top levels of the state worried the defenders of DR Congo's young and fragile democracy. Kamerhe finally chose to resign voluntarily, without a debate in parliament.

“It was the wise way to go,” said a relieved William Wenga Bumba, secretary of the Kinshasa section of the National Nework of Human Rights, a nongovernmental organisation.

The chairman of the National Assembly made a point of minimising the differences between himself and Kabila and left the house under his fellow parliamentarian's loud applause. Kinshasa's newspapers already predict that Kamerhe's name will be heard again.

Now that an open crisis has been averted, the way is clear for Sarkozy to address an “academic” session of parliament regrouping members of both houses on Thursday.

Yet as soon as he leaves, hard questions will resurface on the agenda.

Date created : 2009-03-26

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