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Strike Brings Congo's Capital to Standstill as Opposition Warns on Elections

A strike brought the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo to a halt Friday as leaflets urged the city's residents to demonstrate against the deaths of protesters on Monday and a possible delay in elections. Later in the day, a leading opposition figure delivered a scathing attack against the government.

Leaflets circulating around Kinshasa during that last few days had called for a ville morte, a dead town, and insisted cars should stay off the roads, people should refuse to go to work and the city's usually bustling markets ought to remain closed.

And for a large part of the day, Kinshasa's residents complied, bringing the city to a standstill. Busses and taxis were nowhere to be seen, shops kept their shutters down and government offices struggled to function.

By the afternoon, life began to return to the capital, home to between six and eight million people. But the demonstrators had no doubt made their point. They had shown their anger over the deaths of protesters in demonstrations on Monday, and they had also shown their unwillingness to accept a delay in elections that had been schedulated for later in the year.

Residents said they had not seen demonstrations of such a kind since the 1990s when protests were aimed at the dictatorship of the late Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the former Zaire for over thirty years.

President Joseph Kabila's transitional government is struggling to restore order, organize elections and encourage development in the vast mineral rich African country, which is emerging from a five year war.

Much of the fighting has stopped and the former belligerents are now part of the same government. But the politics remain divisive and little progress has been made toward organizing elections, and protests followed the first official announcement that they might possibly be delayed.

Etienne Tshisekedi, a prominent opposition politician with a strong following in Kinshasa, announced Friday that legal proceedings had been opened against the minister of the interior and the governor of Kinshasa, accusing them of homicide and causing serious injuries in Monday's protests.

Mr. Tshisekedi also called on the Congolese people to continue calling for polls in June, as scheduled, and warned those in power that no delay would be accepted, irrespective of any clauses in the constitution.

Mr. Tshisekedi's statement adds pressure on a Kabila government that is already beset by chronic social and economic problems in the capital and great instability in the east of the country. And elections are due in less than six months.