KINSHASA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of President Joseph Kabila’s supporters rallied in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital on Friday in a growing stand-off with opposition parties who have accused him of trying to cling to power.
Crowds packed the 50,000-seat Tata Raphael Stadium chanting “Kabila”, wearing t-shirts bearing his face. “The people want Kabila to remain in power as long as possible,” Tekis Mulaila, a senator from Kabila’s PPRD party, told Reuters.
The president, in power since 2001, is required by constitutional term limits to step down at elections scheduled for Nov. 27.
But his supporters have said logistical problems may force a delay and have called for a “national dialogue” on the vote - an announcement that the opposition has dismissed as a ruse to postpone the poll.
People waved flags of parties in Kabila’s ruling coalition and politicians urged support for Kabila and the dialogue, expected to begin next month.
Two days earlier, even bigger crowds filled the streets of Kinshasa to welcome home long-time opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi after two years of medical leave.
Tshisekedi is expected to lead another demonstration on Sunday.
More than 40 people died during violent protests in January 2015 against revisions to the electoral law that could have delayed the election by years.
Moves by other leaders to extend their rule have triggered mass protests in Burundi, Burkina Faso and other countries in recent years.
Ballarmin Biamungu, a member of the majority coalition’s Alliance of Democratic Forces of Congo (AFDC) party, said he expected Kabila to leave power once the presidential election was organized, without giving a date.
“Kabila is a big democrat,” he said. “I think he will respect his word.”
Reporting By Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and Andrew Heavens