December 12, 2016 / 3:01 PM / in a year

Europe follows U.S. with sanctions on Congo officials, threatens more

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union imposed sanctions on seven Congolese officials it says illegally suppressed anti-government protests in September, when dozens of demonstrators were killed, and warned it would target more senior figures if violence persists.

The travel bans and asset freezes on members of the Republican Guard, army, police and other senior figures were agreed by EU foreign ministers and follow sanctions imposed by the United States.

“Additional restrictive measures may be considered in the event of further violence or the political process being impeded,” the EU said in a statement. It listed Commander of the Republican Guard Ilunga Kampete and six others that included Kinshasa’s police commissioner and intelligence officials.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government was not immediately available for comment.

At least 50 people were killed by security forces in protests in September against President Joseph Kabila’s plan to stay in power after his mandate expires on Dec. 19, the EU said, citing “serious violations of human rights.”

International powers fear demonstrations this month could lead to wider violence in the vast central African nation, where millions died in regional conflicts between 1998 and 2003 and that has never had a peaceful transition of power.

The tough line from the United States and the European Union is also an attempt to arrest a broader trend among regional leaders clinging to power, after heads of state in Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi extended their mandates.

“We call for the respect of the constitution,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, referring to the ban on Kabila seeking another term after being in power since 2001.

“President Kabila can no longer run for election and the end to his mandate is quickly approaching,” he told reporters.

EU foreign ministers are seeking to break the deadlock over whether Kabila should step down before an election which, due to slow voter registration, has been delayed until at least April 2018.

Kabila has vowed to stay on until the poll goes ahead, but the opposition accuse him of manipulating the process to cling to power, a charge his supporters deny.

The European Union now wants elections next year.

Editing by Louise Ireland

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