KINSHASA, DRC - A political deal signed on New Year's Eve that was supposed to clear the way for elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the departure of President Joseph Kabila could be on the brink of collapse.
At a news conference Tuesday in Kinshasa, Jean-Marc Kabund, secretary-general of the opposition UDPS party, said there could no longer be any doubt that Kabila and his political allies do not intend to move toward elections.
He accused the president and his allies of deliberately undermining the agreement they signed on December 31 with the Rassemblement, a large opposition coalition in which the UDPS is the leading member.
Kabund called on the Congolese to prepare themselves for a large march on April 10 to protest the nonapplication of the accord and Kabila's plans for a lifelong presidency.
Hundreds of angry UDPS supporters gathered in the road outside, shouting that Kabila must step down or be chased from the country. The police soon arrived to disperse the crowd. They fired live rounds into the air while the crowd hurled stones.
Kabila's second term — and what the constitution says should have been his final term — expired December 19, but elections to find his successor were postponed and the president has remained in office. The New Year's Eve deal, which was mediated by the Congolese Catholic Church, offered a peaceful solution. A transitional government headed by a prime minister from the Rassemblement was supposed to take over and lead the country toward elections in late 2017.
However, talks about how to implement the accord have faltered, and the two sides are still split on several key issues, most intractably on how to nominate the next prime minister.
Last week, the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) told the Rassemblement and Kabila's political alliance to resolve their differences and sign an implementation agreement before March 27. That ultimatum went unanswered, and on Monday night, CENCO's president, Monseigneur Marcel Utembi, announced the bishops were ending their mediation.
Utembi appealed to the negotiators to not lose sight of the main objective of the talks: the organization of elections in less than a year.
On Tuesday afternoon, the bishops met with Kabila. One told VOA that Kabila would try to break the impasse. On Tuesday night, the presidency issued a statement saying the "current impasse must not mean the definitive rupture of the dialogue."
For the UDPS, however, there is no longer any hope of a resolution.
Political protests have been banned in much of Congo since September 2016, and the UDPS announcement of one on April 10 will renew fears of violent repression by the state.