Congo general strike stops most economic activity in capital

Joseph Kabila Kabange, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (Reuters)

By Aaron Ross KINSHASA (Reuters) - A one-day general strike in Democratic Republic of Congo shut down most businesses in the capital on Tuesday, raising pressure on President Joseph Kabila to quit power when his mandate ends in December. Kinshasa's streets were largely deserted by early afternoon and few of the shared taxis that ferry much of the city's workforce were running, witnesses said. Some schools were closed. Several government offices in Kinshasa were operating at less than half strength, employees said, with many workers unable to find transport. "For us, this (strike) is an important action against an irresponsible government," said Abdul Mpia, 39, standing on Kinshasa's Avenue of Commerce. Others, however, said the strike was causing hardship in a city where many make a living as street sellers. The constitution bars Kabila from standing again in elections slated for November, but critics fear he wants to change the law or delay the poll to retain power. Kabila came to power when his father was assassinated in 2001. He won elections in 2006 and 2011 that the opposition says were rigged. More than 40 died in a police crackdown on protests in January 2015. Kabila has refused to comment on his future and has appealed for dialogue to resolve difficulties in organizing elections. Opposition leaders hailed the strike as a successful first step toward forcing Kabila's departure. "We need to escalate these actions step-by-step until the action will be like that of our Burkinabe friends in October 2014," said opposition leader Martin Fayulu. He was referring to a popular uprising in Burkina Faso that ousted President Blaise Campaore after he tried to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule. President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision in neighboring Burundi to seek a third term, meanwhile, has triggered nine months of violence in which at least 440 have died. There was little evidence of a strike in Congo's second city, Lubumbashi, witnesses said, but in the eastern city of Goma, many shops were closed. Some, however, were circumspect about the strike's impact. "I always thought that this particular strike would not have any significant consequence on the respective positions of people," said Pascal Kambale, former Congo country director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. Authorities arrested six members of the Struggle for Change (Lucha) activist group in the eastern city of Goma overnight and another in Kinshasa, the director of the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in Kinshasa, Jose Maria Aranaz, told Reuters, saying they who were preparing leaflets announcing the strike. One member of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) party was also arrested in the eastern city of Uvira, Aranaz said. Government and police spokesmen said they did not yet have any information about arrests. There were no confirmed reports of violence. Embassies urged their citizens to exercise caution and U.S., French and Belgian schools in Kinshasa were closed. (Additional reporting by Benoit Nyemba, Amedee Mwarabu Kiboko in Kinshasa and Kenny Katombe in Lubumbashi; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)