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Congo's Kabila meets allies ahead of presidential candidate deadline

President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, is barred by term limits from running for re-election but has refused to commit publicly to not standing.

This file photo shows Congolese President Joseph Kabila. Picture: AFP.

KINSHASA - Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila met with his ruling coalition at his farm on Tuesday, the day before a deadline to name its candidate for a December presidential election.

Kabila, in power since 2001, is barred by term limits from running for re-election but has refused to commit publicly to not standing. That has raised fears he might do so anyway, which risks throwing the volatile central African country into chaos.

Security forces have killed dozens of protesters since Kabila refused to quit power at the end of mandate in December 2016, saying the government was not yet prepared to hold the election to succeed him. Militia violence in the eastern borderlands with Rwanda and Uganda has also risen.

Western powers and Congo’s neighbours fear even worse violence across the country if Kabila digs in and runs, with memories still fresh of civil wars around the turn of the century that killed millions, most from hunger and disease.

The presidency invited journalists to the meeting on Tuesday afternoon at Kabila’s farm in the village of Kingakati, about 80 km outside the capital Kinshasa, but it did not provide specifics about the agenda.

A Reuters reporter saw members of Kabila’s electoral coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC), enter the farm, including Communications Minister Lambert Mende, Commerce Minister Jean-Lucien Bussa and the president of the lower house of parliament, Aubin Minaku.

Minaku has been tipped as one of the candidates to emerge as Kabila’s chosen successor, as has former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo.

Several opposition candidates have also registered their candidacies for the Dec. 23 vote. They include former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was recently acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Court, and Vital Kamerhe, who finished third in the 2011 election.

On Tuesday, Felix Tshisekedi, the president of Congo’s largest opposition party, the UDPS, and son of the late opposition icon Etienne Tshisekedi, filed his candidacy at the electoral commission headquarters in Kinshasa.

As Tshisekdi drove to the headquarters, clashes briefly broke out between supporters of his, who threw rocks, and police officers, who riposted with volleys of teargas, witnesses said.

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