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July 23, 2017

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Strikes in DR Congo over plans by president to postpone election

KINSHASA, DR Congo--The Congolese capital Kinshasa was gripped by a strike Wednesday in a protest over plans by the president to stay in power beyond the end of his term in December, AFP journalists said.

The opposition called for the action to protest a deal signed Tuesday which would keep President Joseph Kabila in power in the Democratic Republic of Congo until April 2018 by postponing this year's scheduled presidential vote.

Kabila first took office in 2001, and in 2006 a new constitutional provision limited the presidency to a two-term limit which expires on Dec. 20.

The country's main opposition party, the UDPS, called the deal signed between authorities and fringe opposition groups a "flagrant violation" of the constitution and said the strike would show Kabila "the yellow card".

At 9:00 a.m. local time (0800 GMT), roads in northern parts of Kinshasa — a city of 10 million people — were totally deserted and most shops closed. They would typically have been bustling ahead of the work and school day.

The upmarket Gombe district was also unusually quiet.

And in Kasa-Vubu, a district in the south of the city, the only people on Victories Square were some 50 police officers.

Officers were deployed in force at other locations including parliament and at several military bases.

The only visible commercial activity taking place was women selling bread and petrol stations that were open but unused.

Shared taxis had all but stopped and private traffic was nearly non-existent.

Those public buses that were running were practically empty.

Despite the widespread strike action in Kinshasa, the situation was normal in the second city Lubumbashi.

Calls for a strike were also ignored in Bukavu, according to an AFP correspondent there.

However in Goma, eastern Congo, the call to down tools was largely followed and most shops remained closed, according to two AFP journalists.

The agreement to allow Kabila to serve into 2018 emerged after the EU threatened sanctions if the country did not hold elections in 2017.

It was concluded at "national dialogue" talks aimed at reducing tensions triggered by disquiet that the president is seeking to remain indefinitely.

But the main opposition coalition — "Rassemblement" (Gathering) — boycotted the talks, branding them a ploy by Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of his term.

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