A general strike announced by opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo is to be held next Tuesday with the aim of forcing President Joseph Kabila to step down when his term ends at the end of this year.
The call for the strike was a retreat from earlier plans for a mass pro-democracy rally after a powerful church withdrew its support last month, saying the planned event was politically motivated.
Opposition leader Charles Mwando Simba, surrounded by leaders from most major opposition parties, told reporters in the capital Kinshasa that "We are called upon to stay at home, to not go to work and to not send our children to school."
Kabila refused to comment on his future and called for negotiations to resolve challenges in organising an election, but the opposition has rejected negotiations as a delaying tactic and says protest is needed to press Kabila to hold a presidential election this year.
The spokesman of the DRC's election commission, Jean-Pierre Kalamba, told Reuters on Wednesday that the commission has taken a step toward restarting the process by rescheduling elections for interim provincial governors to take place on March 26.
Last September the DRC's highest court ruled that local, provincial and national elections, originally scheduled for 2015 and 2016, could not be held until governors assumed power in office. The entire election schedule was disrupted by delays after the ruling.
Kalamba did not report when an election calendar including the presidential poll would be announced, but the commission plans to update voter rolls before national elections, a process it has said could take 13 to 16 months.
Human Rights Watch also urged the US government on Wednesday to impose sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes upon Congolese officials charged for what it called a violent crackdown on Kabila’s election critics.
On Tuesday, US Special Envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region, Tom Perriello, said in a testimony before Congress that Washington is considering "measures including sanctions to hold accountable individuals who threaten the peace and security of the DRC."
Kabila became president of Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001 after his father was assassinated. He won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011.
Critics have accused him of trying to avoid constitutional term limits and remain in power by delaying a presidential election planned for November. In 2015, dozens of people lost their lives over the issue.