The EU and US have imposed sanctions on senior Congolese security and intelligence officials following a violent suppression of anti-government protests in September in which dozens of people died.
EU diplomats said the move, the first by the bloc against government officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is also meant to act as a deterrent ahead of big demonstrations planned for Monday next week. The demonstrations have been called to protest against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down despite his second and final term ending that day.
The political crisis in the commodity-rich country, which has not had a peaceful transition of power since independence in 1960, has been triggered by Mr Kabila’s failure to ensure that elections were held on time.
Government officials say the budget for the elections had to be used elsewhere and, for the sake of stability, Mr Kabila must remain in power until polls are held. But his opponents accuse him of “glissement”, or deliberately delaying the ballot.
Opposition leaders have promised to mobilise supporters across the massive central African country on Monday to give Mr Kabila a “red card” if he does not relinquish power.
They gave him a “yellow card” on September 19 when thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital Kinshasa. At least 50 demonstrators were killed when the elite Republican Guard unit joined riot police in quelling the demonstration. Several police officers were also killed.
Catholic bishops are organising last-ditch talks on Tuesday aimed at brokering an agreement that would involve Mr Kabila staying in power while opposition politicians take senior government positions.
One such agreement was reached in October but it was rejected by the main opposition parties. The opposition have said they will only agree to a deal if there is a firm timetable for elections and Mr Kabila publicly announces he will not seek a third term, which is banned under the constitution.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, said after the ministerial meeting in Brussels where the sanctions were decided that the constitution must be respected.
“President Kabila can no longer run for election and the end to his mandate is quickly approaching,” he said.
Separately, Adam Szubin, the US Treasury’s acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said: “The Congolese government continues to undermine democratic processes in the DRC and repress the political rights and freedoms of the Congolese people.”
Mr Kabila came to power in 2001 after his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. He won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011 and polls were meant to have taken place last month.
International experts say the earliest that elections could be held would be November next year as the electoral roll has to be updated. Congolese electoral officials are planning to hold the ballot in April 2018.
The two officials on whom the US imposed sanctions on Monday are Evariste Boshab, the deputy prime minister and interior minister, and Kalev Mutondo, the head of the national intelligence agency.
The seven people the EU has targeted are mostly generals and senior subordinates of Mr Mutondo, three of whom Washington sanctioned earlier this year.
The sanctions consist of asset freezes and travel restrictions.
A senior EU diplomat in Kinshasa said: “The idea of the sanctions is not only to punish them but to disincentivise people from shooting protesters over the next few weeks. “It might also help the penny drop with Kabila that we’re not going to help him stay.”
Local media quoted government spokesman Lambert Mende as saying the sanctions were “illegal because they are a sort of imperial law that is at odds with international law”.
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