Congolese opposition demands clear election timetable

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Kinshasa (AFP) - The Congolese opposition demanded a clear election timetable on Tuesday after the adoption of a controversial law failed to ease fears President Joseph Kabila was trying to extend his term in office.

"We are calling on the national election commission to publish without delay a comprehensive and mutually agreed upon calendar in compliance with the deadlines set out by the constitution," said a statement signed by 50 opposition parties and associations.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been in turmoil since Kabila's government introduced an electoral law with a provision that would make new polls contingent on a new voters' roll being drawn up after a census -- a process that had could take at least three years.

Opposition leaders saw it as a way for Kabila to stay in power in the vast mineral-rich country beyond 2016 despite being constitutionally barred from running again.

The bill sparked several days of clashes last week between police and protesters in which as many as 42 people were killed and dozens wounded, according to rights groups.

The government puts the death toll at 12.

Both houses of parliament subsequently dropped the controversial provision.

But the final text has left uncertainty over the timing of a series of elections, including whether a presidential poll will be held by the end of Kabila's second five-year term next year.

- 'Prefer to remain calm' -

Opposition leaders Samy Badibanga and Vital Kamerhe were among the 50 signatories to Tuesday's statement who also branded Congo an "open air prison" after access to text messaging, mobile Internet and radio stations was blocked on Monday.

The restrictions on communications meant opposition calls for the people to stage fresh demonstrations against Kabila went unheeded.

Badibanga, president of leading opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), would not specify an opposition plan of action if their demand for a clear election timetable was not met.

"We prefer to remain calm," he told AFP.

The violence "has made it clear to the people and politicians that we don't need deaths to make it understood that the constitution and the laws of the Republic need to be respected," he said.

The opposition and rights groups have also demanded the release of those arrested arbitrarily and imprisoned without trial following last week's unrest.

Kabila, now 43, first came to power in January 2001 when Kinshasa politicians rushed to make the young soldier head of state after the assassination of his father rebel-turned-president Laurent Kabila.

In 2006, Kabila was returned to office in the DR Congo's first free election since independence from Belgium in 1960. He began his second and last five-year constitutional term after a hotly disputed vote in 2011.

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