February 10, 2015 / 7:44 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-Hundreds still detained after Congo protests as Kabila gets tough

* More than 300 in detention after protests last month

* Former Kabila allies, opposition figures among detained

* Kabila barred from running in 2016 election (Adds detained opposition leader makes media appearance)

By Aaron Ross

KINSHASA Feb 10 (Reuters) - More than 300 people, including opposition leaders, remain in detention in Democratic Republic of Congo after protests last month, reinforcing concerns that President Joseph Kabila plans to cling to power beyond his legal mandate.

Kabila’s spokesman says the president will respect the constitution, which bars him from seeking a third term next year after winning disputed elections in 2006 and 2011.

With growing signs of popular opposition to any attempt to prolong his mandate in the big central African country, the ruling coalition has been weakened by high profile defections, particularly in his home province of Katanga.

Four days of anti-government protests last month, in which security forces killed at least 40 people, forced parliament to drop plans to require a census before the 2016 vote that critics said aimed to delay the election and keep Kabila in power.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is alarmed by the detentions and says prisoners have been held for three weeks without access to a lawyer.

Among those detained are officials close to the governor of Katanga province, Moise Katumbi, a former ally of the president who in December opposed Kabila’s third term and was stripped of his post as provincial head of the president’s party.

Katumbi’s ally Jean-Claude Muyambo, who heads the party that withdrew from Kabila’s coalition, is charged with an improper real estate sale, while others are charged with embezzlement.

The government denies the arrests are political and says many detainees are charged with pillage during the protests.


Kabila’s critics and some political analysts say the detentions suggest increasing desperation on his part.

“He’s politically weakened and increasingly isolated,” said Pascal Kambale, former Congo director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. “He’s as dangerous as a wounded wild beast.”

Congo, which exports copper, gold and diamonds, has not had a peaceful transition since independence from Belgium in 1960.

OHCHR said last Friday it believed at least 11 prisoners, including human rights campaigner and opposition activist Christopher Ngoyi, were being held incommunicado.

Ngoyi’s friends and family said they had no information about him since his detention on Jan. 21, but he was presented to local media at the Interior Ministry on Tuesday after nearly three weeks in the custody of the national intelligence agency.

He is charged with protest-related crimes including arson and incitement to racial hatred, said his son Patrick Ngoyi.

Roman Catholic Bishop Fridolin Ambongo said government tactics could trigger further violence.

“We fear its last word will be an act of madness that could lead to the situation getting out of control because the people will not give up,” he said. “If there is only force as a response, there will be tragic consequences in our country.” (Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Bienvenu-Marie Bakumanya in Kinshasa; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Dominic Evans)

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