March 28, 2017 / 10:24 AM / 2 years ago

Congo tense as Catholic bishops withdraw from talks

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Isolated unrest broke out in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital on Tuesday after Catholic bishops withdrew from their role as mediators between the government and opposition in talks aimed at paving the way for delayed elections this year.

Congolese Catholic Church (CENCO) Bishops (L-R) Fidele Nsielele, Marcel Utembi, Fridolin Ambongo, and AbbŽ Donatien Nshole mediate talks between the opposition and the government of President Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Demonstrators, some burning tyres at city crossroads, took to the streets in several areas in Kinshasa. In one instance, police fired tear gas to disperse a small group of youths.

Many shops remained closed and some schools called parents to collect their children, a Reuters witness said.

President Joseph Kabila’s mandate ran out in December but polls were not held due to what the government said were budgetary constraints, sparking violent protests at the end of last year in which security forces killed at least 40 people.

Congo’s conference of Catholic bishops (CENCO) helped negotiate a Dec. 31 deal aimed at avoiding a political crisis by ensuring an election this year to elect Kabila’s successor.

In January, the bishops warned that the deal was at risk of unravelling if politicians did not act quickly to reach compromises and implement the deal.

The bishops stepped aside on Tuesday after progress on the deal stalled, raising the prospect of renewed violence in a country that has suffered a succession of wars and rebellions.

“We think that there’s no longer anything to do,” Donatien Nshole, secretary general of CENCO, told Reuters. “We have given all our time and all our energy and in the meantime pastoral work suffers.”

Kabila has ruled the central African copper producer since his father’s assassination in 2001. His critics accuse him of deliberately delaying elections in order to remain in power.

Congo has never experienced a peaceful transition of power

and millions have died in conflicts in the country’s east since

1996, most from hunger and disease.

Reporting By William Clowes and Amedee Mwarabu in Kinshasa; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Joe Bavier, John Stonestreet and Julia Glover

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