KINSHASA, Congo – A leading opposition candidate in Congo announced on Friday his coalition accepts a week-long delay in the presidential election until Dec. 30 but not one day more.
Felix Tshisekedi spoke to supporters a day after Congo's electoral commission announced the latest delay in a vote that was meant to take place in late 2016. The commission blamed a fire last week that destroyed voting materials in the capital, Kinshasa, including thousands of voting machines.
Tshisekedi called on supporters for calm. But the secretary-general for Tshisekedi's party, Jean-Marc Kabund, warned that if another delay is announced the party will call on the public to mobilize.
Congo's election will choose the country's first new president in nearly two decades, after President Joseph Kabila earlier this year eased the concerns of many by announcing that he would step aside after the vote. The opposition had worried that Kabila, in office since 2001, would look for ways to stay in power beyond term limits.
At stake is a vast Central African country blessed with trillions of dollars' worth of mineral wealth but suffering from the presence of dozens of armed groups, widespread corruption and largely rotting or nonexistent infrastructure.
Tshisekedi also said his coalition plans to campaign until Dec. 28 despite a recent ban on such rallies in the capital by Kinshasa's governor, who cited security concerns.
The long-delayed vote has led to sometimes deadly protests, and tensions have been rising again. Earlier this month the U.N.'s special representative in Congo denounced "the obstacles encountered by some opposition candidates during their efforts to hold public meetings in certain cities around the country."
Several people have been killed in recent days at chaotic opposition rallies in various parts of the country, and the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, warned on Thursday that anyone who "incites or participates in mass violence" could be prosecuted.
The latest election delay has been met with some anger. "No postponement is justifiable," the coalition of another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, said in a statement late Thursday. It accused Kabila of trying to stay in power and "continue to loot the country."
Kikaya Bin Karubi, Kabila's special adviser and a spokesman for ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the election commission's decision to delay the vote "bothers us ... but we bow to it."
Some in the opposition have pointed to statements by the election commission made shortly after last week's fire that the blaze did not compromise preparations for the vote that had been meant to take place on Sunday.
"My feeling is that Kabila's ruling party doesn't want an election," Baudoin Mayo, secretary-general of the party that has joined forces with Tshisekedi's, said Friday.
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