KINSHASA (Reuters) – Police in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa fired teargas at stone-throwing supporters of opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi on Tuesday, as he drove to the electoral commission to file his candidacy for president, witnesses said.
Tshisekedi heads the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and is the son of late opposition icon Etienne Tshisekedi. A nationwide poll placed him in a joint lead in December’s presidential race with 19 percent of the vote.
The clashes lasted about 10 minutes, a local journalist who witnessed them said.
Wednesday is the deadline to submit candidacies for the election, and all eyes are on President Joseph Kabila, who has yet to commit publicly to bowing out despite being barred from standing by term limits.
Repeated delays to the poll, originally scheduled for November 2016, and Kabila’s refusal to quit at the end of his mandate the following month have provoked protests in which security forces killed dozens of demonstrators.
Western powers and Congo’s neighbours fear chaos if Kabila digs in and decides to run, with the vast central African country still reeling from wars since the 1990s that killed millions, most from hunger and disease, and spawned dozens of militia groups, many of which are still active.
The clashes between the police and the hundreds of Tshisekedi supporters who ran and drove motorcycles alongside his car on the way to the commission headquarters marked the first violence of the registration period, which opened two weeks ago.
Kabila is due to meet members of his electoral coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC), on Tuesday afternoon at his farm outside Kinshasa.
Some of his allies have floated legal arguments which they said would justify his seeking a third term but Kabila has remained silent about his intentions except to say that he will respect the constitution.
(Reporting by Patient Ligodi; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Tim Cocks and David Stamp)