DR Congo president calls major meeting in Katanga stronghold

DR Congo President Joseph Kabila (2nd R) is greeted by local officials as he arrives at the Mavivi airport in Beni, near the eastern city of Goma, on October 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Alain Wandimoyi)

Lubumbashi (DR Congo) (AFP) - President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo was set Monday to convene a major political meeting in his native province of Katanga, amid controversy over a possible third term in office.

The aim of the talks was to "unite all Katangans" and to "hold consultations on the subject of a third mandate for Joseph Kabila in 2016", which would call for constitutional change, a source in the president's office said.

Kabila has been staying in the mineral-rich southeastern province of the vast country for several days, along with Interior Minister Evariste Boshab, and they were to be joined by about 50 parliamentary deputies and senators from Katanga, the source added.

The members of parliament left the DRC capital Kinshasa by air on Sunday afternoon for the chief town of Katanga, Lubumbashi, a distance of some 1,567 kilometres (975 miles), an AFP journalist saw.

The charismatic governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, returned on December 23 to the province, regarded as the economic hub of the nation, after three months spent abroad.

Katumbi then gave a speech to fervent supporters, in which he guardedly opposed the prospect of opening the way to a third term for Kabila, who will have ruled for 14 years on January 17.

But the governor told AFP that he would not attend Kabila's rally for "health reasons", stating that on Wednesday he needed to leave for medical treatment in London.

Kabila, then a young soldier, was first rushed into office in wartime by Kinshasa politicians early in 2001 after the murder of his father, president Laurent Kabila, a former rebel who ousted longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

In 2003, peace deals were cut under the aegis of the United Nations and the international community to end the second Congolese war, which drew in the armies of at least six foreign countries to fight on Congolese soil.

A large UN mission in the former Belgian Congo -- known as Zaire under Mobutu -- helped prepare for the first democratic elections in 2006, when Kabila was voted back into office.

While that poll was generally regarded as free and fair in a country where conflict persists in the east, Kabila's next victory in 2011 was hotly contested by the opposition and international observers.

The current constitution bars him from running for a third five-year term, but Kabila's foes contend that his backers are planning either to revise the basic law or to hold a census across a nation two-thirds the size of Western Europe, which would inevitably postpone any elections beyond 2016.