KINSHASA, Congo – Congo's president has called for dialogue with the opposition to reduce tensions in the Central African country, a move the opposition and international community fear will delay elections.
President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, began a three-week open discussion with politicians, religious and civic leaders on June 1, but opposition parties are refusing to participate without international mediation.
Some leaders have said they worry talks will lead to the formation of a national unity government that would delay the November 16 elections and keep Kabila in power beyond constitutional limits.
"The Congolese people are tired of the dialogues," said opposition leader Vital Kamerhe. He said Kabila must instead release political prisoners and journalists, to create a climate of confidence.
Longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who is now receiving medical treatment in Brussels, supported talks with the president but emphasized the need for foreign mediators.
Kabila, however, has said he does not want international mediators.
Though Kabila has remained quiet about his future in politics, Congo has never had a peaceful transfer of power in its 55 years of independence.
In January, mass protests erupted against proposed changes to the electoral law, widely seen as a ploy to delay the 2016 presidential elections and to allow Kabila to prolong his rule.
"What needs to be resolved quickly is the question of the electoral calendar, the issues of the voters and the question of the election budget," said U.N. special representative Martin Kobler.
Tom Malinowski, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights, warned after a recent visit to Kinshasa: "Our position is that the Constitution should be respected and that they should not be changed simply to enable one person to continue in power forever."
Government spokesman Lambert Mende has said Kabila will respect the constitution.