`Dead Cities' Strike Hits Congo as Kabila Foes Protest

  • Opposition groups called on students, workers to stay home
  • Action protests president's alleged attempts to maintain power

A strike on Tuesday shut some schools and businesses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in an attempt to increase pressure on President Joseph Kabila to leave when his mandate expires at the end of this year.

Students and workers were called to participate by groups including La Dynamique, a coalition known as the G7 and the Union for Democracy and Social Progress. Most of Congo’s opposition parties backed the action, known as “villes-mortes,” or dead cities, including the UDPS, the largest group opposed to Kabila’s rule, which joined at the last minute.

In the capital, Kinshasa, police in riot gear were stationed at major intersections. Roads were quiet throughout the day and some shops were closed or opened later in the morning. There were no reported major incidents of violence.

“The message has been delivered -- now we must wait for Kabila’s reaction,” UDPS member Jacquemain Shabani said late Tuesday.

Many of the informal traders in the city of abut 10 million people went about their working day as normal. “The government told us to come work so we did,” said Jacques Kalambayi, a seller at the central market, referring to a statement broadcast on state television late Monday. “I am not political. I just sell things and I need to work.”

Congo, the world’s largest source of cobalt and Africa’s biggest miner of copper and tin, is scheduled to hold presidential elections in November as part of a series of votes due this year. The opposition says the crowded election program will be used to postpone the presidential vote and allow Kabila to remain in power. Kabila won elections in 2006 and 2011 and the constitution bars him from running for a third term.

Feb. 16 is the anniversary of a 1992 protest against former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko during which security forces killed at least 33 demonstrators in Kinshasa. Violence during protests by opposition supporters in the city in January 2015 left at least 36 people dead, including 21 people shot by security forces, according to Human Rights Watch.

The government told all public employees to come to work on Tuesday and that attendance will be checked in state offices. “Any lateness or absence” will be punished, Employment Minister Willy Makiashi said in a statement.

Elsewhere in the country, economic activity and peoples’ movements were reduced in the eastern city of Goma, where the activist group Struggle for Change said six of its members were detained on Monday night. They had been preparing pamphlets to distribute during the strike on Tuesday, the group said in an e-mailed statement.

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