KINSHASA, DRC - Democratic Republic of Congo's powerful Catholic church called on citizens on Thursday to defy any attempt by President Joseph Kabila to hold on to power beyond the end of his term next year.
More than 40 percent of Congo identifies itself as Catholic. The church has been outspoken on the subject of Kabila's future, notably condemning the government's crackdown on anti-government protests in January that left about 40 people dead.
Kabila, who became president in 2001 and won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011, is barred by the constitution from standing for a third term. But opponents say he is determined to stay in power by delaying a vote scheduled for November 2016.
"We ask the Congolese people to prove their vigilance in the spirit of article 64 [of the constitution]," said the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) in a statement signed by the leader of Congo's Catholics, Cardinal Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya.
"[This] stipulates that 'All Congolese have the duty to thwart any individual or group of individuals that takes power by force or exercises it in violation of the provisions of the present constitution.'"
Kabila has refused to comment publicly on his political future. A spokesman says he intends to respect the constitution, but some of his allies have suggested delaying the presidential election by up to four years to clean up voter rolls.
Earlier this month, the church declared its support for a national dialogue to discuss the upcoming elections as long it does not delay polls. The government has said that Kabila will convene the dialogue "imminently".
Most opposition parties have said they will not participate, calling the dialogue part of a strategy to delay the election.