November 15, 2016 / 2:43 PM / 4 years ago

Congo leader warns against foreign 'interference' in crisis

KINSHASA, (Reuters) - Congolese President Joseph Kabila warned against foreign “interference” in the country’s political crisis on Tuesday, in an address to parliament in which he also promised elections, without saying when they would be held.

Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila arrives for a southern and central African leaders' meeting to discuss the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Luanda, Angola, October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe - RTX2QLA9

Kabila appeared to be reacting to remarks by some U.N. Security Council diplomats, who visited Congo at the weekend to push for a peaceful transition of power. They were hoping to avert widespread violence when the president’s mandate runs out on Dec. 19.

Their visit aimed to break the deadlock over elections, which have been repeatedly delayed and are now not expected until 2018. Some officials raised concerns when Kabila declined to answer directly questions about whether he would try to change the constitution so he could run again.

Congo’s prime minister and cabinet resigned on Monday as part of an agreement that extends Kabila’s tenure and should pave the way for a new cabinet, with posts for some of those opposition figures who agreed to the election delay. The main opposition bloc, however, has rejected it.

“The Congolese have shown that they can responsibly resolve their differences,” Kabila told lawmakers, to applause that filled the room.

“I warn against and denounce all interference in Congolese affairs. Our country ... has a right to have its sovereignty respected, and we will never give that up.”

But pressure on Kabila has come as much from inside Congo as from outside. More than 50 people were killed when security forces clashed with protesters calling for the president to step down in September.

Many fear that the political impasse will lead to more chaos and bloodshed in the vast Central African nation, where millions died in regional conflicts between 1998 and 2003.

Kabila blamed the violence squarely on his opponents.

“No political agenda will justify violence, still less the loss of human life,” he said. “Trying to take power by the blood of the Congolese people is morally condemnable.”

Kabila’s critics say his aim is to change the constitution, which limits him to two terms in office, in order to secure a third. In his speech, he reiterated what he told Security Council officials over the weekend — that the constitution, which currently bars him from running again, will be respected.

In talks with them, though, he raised the possibility of the Congolese people changing the constitution, “if they so desire”, apparently leaving the door open for a referendum to lift term limits, as several other African leaders have done.

“In some months, the electoral register will be ready and the election will be held,” Kabila said, without giving a date.

Writing by Tim Cocks, editing by Larry King

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