UN chief urges DR Congo to lift ban on demonstrations

United Nations (United States) (AFP) –


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged the Democratic Republic of Congo's government to lift a ban on demonstrations that threatens to scupper chances for credible elections.

The December 23 elections in the vast resource-rich country are to pave the way to a historic transfer of power that would end President Joseph Kabila's rule.

Guterres told the Security Council in a report that "persistent divergences" over the vote and "the lack of political space remain a threat to the holding of credible and inclusive elections."

"Lifting the ban on public demonstrations would greatly contribute to the opening of political space" and allow the Congolese to "freely exercise their political and civil rights," said the report sent to the council this month.

The government has authorized some opposition protests in recent weeks but security forces cracked down on demonstrators in late March and early April in the second city of Lubumbashi and in other areas of the country.

The ban was imposed in September 2016 when anti-Kabila protests turned violent.

While repression against the opposition has decreased, restrictions targeting the opposition remain in place, with at least 86 political prisoners still in detention.

The Security Council is expected to discuss the report on preparations for the elections in the coming weeks.

Kabila, in power since 2001, has not clearly stated whether he will step aside.

Last month, the council tasked its peacekeeping mission in the DR Congo with helping to prepare the polls and protect civilians as fears are running high of election violence.