KINSHASA, D.R.C. —
Youth groups who want DRC President Joseph Kabila to stand down at the end of his term in December tried to organize a protest in Kinshasa on Saturday, but police prevented it. It was the third time this month that such a demonstration had been blocked.
The governor of Kinshasa outlawed all political protest in September in the aftermath of a demonstration during which security forces killed more than 50 people, according to the United Nations.
Saturday's gathering was organized by nine youth groups and was supposed to mark the launch of a new campaign titled Bye Bye Kabila. They say the president should step down on December 19, the end of his second and — under the constitution — final term.
The president, however, intends to remain in office until at least April 2018, and many fear he wishes to alter the constitution to allow him to seek a third term.
An activist of LUCHA, a civic engagement group, who helped organize the Bye Bye Kabila campaign told VOA that it wasn't a one-day event, but would last until year's end.
The activist, who asked not to be identified, said the purpose of the campaign was to ask the Congolese to be vigilant and to demand that the constitution be preserved and respected.
The organizers called on their supporters to meet Saturday morning at six different places in the city in order to distribute fliers to raise awareness about the Congolese constitution.
From early in the morning, it was apparent that the demonstration could not continue as planned. Each meeting point was occupied by pickup trucks full of armed police, while trucks of riot police patrolled the roads.
"Our activity has been obstructed by the large-scale police presence," the LUCHA activist said, "to prevent citizens from being able to act freely and from exercising their rights recognized by the constitution." He said Kabila had barred them from expressing their point of view about the constitution's violation.
About midday, several dozen activists burst out of a nightclub on Rond Point Victoire, one of Kinshasa's busiest roundabouts. For five minutes, they shouted anti-Kabila slogans and handed out fliers bearing the words of Article 64 of the constitution. This provision obliges all Congolese to ensure the failure of any individual who takes or maintains power by force or in violation of the constitution.
The protesters disappeared by the time police arrived.
"We have come to accomplish our mission to circulate the message that on December 19, it's the end of President Kabila's mandate," an activist told VOA in the street. "If he does not quit power on December 19, we will apply Article 64."
He accused the authorities of being Kabila's accomplices and supporting the regime rather than the Congolese people.
The ban on protest has provoked international as well as domestic condemnation. In early November, a group of U.N. experts unsuccessfully urged the government to revoke the decision, which they called "unjustified" and "disturbing."