KINSHASA Hundreds of opposition supporters protested in the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday to demand that President Joseph Kabila not change the constitution to seek a third term at elections due in 2016.
Representatives of the two main opposition parties, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), were joined by a host of smaller parties at odds with Kabila’s majority coalition.
No incidents were reported at the demonstration.
Speculation that Kabila could seek to remove the constitution's limit of two five-year presidential terms has raised fears of a return to political turmoil in the giant, mineral-rich nation at the heart of Africa.
Last week, Evariste Boshab, general-secretary of the pro-Kabila People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), endorsed a constitutional change if it were approved by referendum, alarming many in the opposition's ranks.
“(Kabila) is playing with democracy, trying to provoke a change of the constitution or a referendum,” Jean Bertrand Ewanga, the general secretary of UNC, told Reuters. “The danger is that he wants a presidential monarchy.”
Government spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters by telephone from Washington, where he was attending a U.S.-Africa summit, that the opposition's talk of constitutional change was speculation. "It is pure distraction. How can they debate about the end of a mandate which is only half-completed?" he said.
Kabila won Congo’s first democratic election in 2006, having assumed power after his father was assassinated by a member of his presidential guard in 2001.
He then defeated Etienne Tshisekedi, the leader of UDPS, by a narrow margin in a 2011 election that was criticized by observers for voter intimidation and ballot stuffing.
The main opposition parties failed to unite in 2011 but Ewanga says that the formation of a coalition called "Save the Democratic Republic of Congo" has changed that. Even UNC supporters now call for Tshisekedi to be installed as president.
“Our president is called Etienne Tshisekedi. He was elected. Around him, we want to reconstruct the dignity of our country,” Ewanga said.
Kabila has come under pressure abroad to step aside in 2016. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as Russ Feingold, Washington's envoy to the region, both urged Kabila to respect the terms of the constitution during visits to Congo this year.
(Reporting by Peter Jones; Editing by Daniel Flynn/Mark Heinrich)