Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo have fired tear gas to disperse a rally in capital Kinshasa to protest about talks between opposition parties and the government on a delayed presidential election.
Young protesters, opposed to the dialogue, threw rocks and set fire to tyres on Thursday in front of the headquarters of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) and Labour Alliance for Development (ATD) parties, whose presidents are participating in the negotiations with President Joseph Kabila.
Kabila’s opponents accuse him of stalling the vote to cling on to power, a charge he denies.
Some protesters chanted on Thursday: “We’re going to burn the headquarters of Kamerhe. Kamerhe is a traitor,” in reference to UNC president Vital Kamerhe, who will lead the opposition delegation at the talks.
They also chanted down former Togo premier Edem Kodjo, who has been named by the African Union as the talks’ “facilitator”.
The meeting between the government, opposition and civic leaders was due to start later on Thursday after authorities said last month that a poll scheduled for November would not be able to held before next July as millions of new voters needed to be enrolled.
Some prominent figures have agreed to participate, but most of the main opposition parties are boycotting the talks.
They have vowed to stay away from the negotiating table until political prisoners are released and legal action is halted against wealthy businessman and presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi.
Katumbi was tried in absentia in June for property fraud and sentenced to three years in jail.
While the courts have approved Katumbi’s seeking medical treatment abroad, they say that he will be arrested on his return and could face additional charges of recruiting mercenaries.
The presiding judge in the fraud case has since said that the authorities pressured her into signing off on a guilty verdict to ensure Katumbi would be ineligible to run.
Kabila won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011 after succeeding his assassinated father, Laurent, in 2001.
The constitution limits him to two elected terms but the country’s highest court says that he can remain beyond the end of his mandate in December until the election takes place.
International powers fear an outbreak of violence in a country that has never experienced a peaceful transition of power, and where millions died in wars between 1996 and 2003.