EU sanctions mooted amid DR Congo crackdown

13th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Britain warned Friday it may seek EU sanctions over "acts of repression" in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as police clashed with supporters of a key opposition leader accused of hiring foreign mercenaries.

The warning came after the mineral-rich African country's Constitutional Court this week ruled that President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, can stay in office beyond 2016 without being re-elected.

"We are talking to our European colleagues about targeted sanctions against those responsible" for violence and intimidation against the opposition, said Danae Dholakia, Britain's special envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region.

"The position of the United Kingdom is that the people responsible for acts of repression or violence will take responsibility for their actions or decisions," said Dholakia.

The diplomat was referring to the recent legal woes of Moise Katumbi, an opposition candidate for elections in theory due before the end of the year, investigated for some 10 days about the alleged recruitment of mercenaries.

Tension has been growing for months in the DRC because of what the opposition alleges are Kabila's efforts to cling on to power despite the constitution barring him from standing again for a third term.

On Friday police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of supporters of Katumbi as he appeared in court over the mercenary allegations.

According to his lawyers, Katumbi was assaulted by police as he arrived at the courthouse in the second city of Lubumbashi, but the claims were denied by the regional police chief.

- 'Grotesque lie' -

Katumbi, the former governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province who broke with his former ally Kabila in September, has denounced the allegations as "a grotesque lie".

The wealthy owner of the Tout-Puissant Mazembe football club, three-time winners of the African Champions League, Katumbi is accused of hiring several foreign mercenaries, notably Americans, as his private guards.

An AFP reporter at the scene said police fired tear gas and beat the crowd back with truncheons, while security agents inside the courthouse were trying to eject dozens of lawyers who arrived to support Katumbi.

One of the lawyers, Hubert Tshiswaka, told AFP they had come to offer free legal assistance to Katumbi "and all the other people arrested over this inquiry".

Katumbi has claimed that the investigation into him announced on May 4, following the arrest of four of his bodyguards including an American, is politically motivated.

Human Rights Watch on Monday slammed the case against him as "targeted actions against a presidential aspirant and close supporters".

Kabila is under pressure to hold elections on schedule following a controversial ruling Wednesday by the Constitutional Court enabling him to stay in office in a caretaker capacity after his mandate ends later this year.

Katumbi said last week he would run against Kabila in the election, originally due in November.

The nine-member Constitutional Court -- three of them chosen by Kabila, three by parliament -- based its Wednesday ruling on article 70 of the constitution stating that a president remains in office until the next head of state steps in.

The opposition have argued that article 75 calls for the senate president to step in pending new elections.

The British envoy, speaking in Kinshasa, said Friday: "I sincerely hope that recent accusations made against Moise Katumbi ... are not an extension of restrictions" on political freedoms in DRC.

"There are lots of red flashing lights," said Dholakia. "The risks of events diverting from constitutional order are real," she added.

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© 2016 AFP

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