KINSHASA, CONGO - Negotiators expressed optimism Friday that an agreement can be reached to end Congo's bloody political impasse, as the United Nations announced the death toll from this week's violence was at least 40.
According to a working document from the talks, elections would be held in 2017 instead of 2018, and President Joseph Kabila could not seek a third term. However, any deal must be officially endorsed by all parties. Mediators want a deal before Christmas.
"There has been a commitment made on both sides to find an agreement. The last adjustments are being made this morning," said Bruno Tshibala, the spokesman for the main opposition party led by Etienne Tshisekedi.
Anger has grown as Kabila, in power since 2001, remains in office after his constitutional mandate ended Monday. A court has ruled he can remain in power until new elections, which originally were set for November but have been postponed indefinitely.
A heavy military and police presence in the capital, Kinshasa, and elsewhere will last through the holidays, the government has said. Hundreds have been arrested.
According to opposition officials, the deal under discussion would include elections before December 2017. While Kabila would remain president until then, a transition council would be formed to monitor the deal's implementation and could be presided over by Tshisekedi.
Also under the proposed deal, Congo's electoral commission and constitutional court would be reformed, and political prisoners would be freed. Moise Katumbi, the popular former governor of Katanga and presidential hopeful, would be allowed to return to the county despite a jail sentence issued during a controversial trial.
A new government would replace the transitional one that was inaugurated Thursday, and a new prime minister from the opposition coalition would be nominated.
Whether the deal will actually be signed remains to be seen.
"As long as people are still negotiating, there is no agreement. It's only speculation," said Jean-Pierre Kambila, Kabila's cabinet director.