Congo’s normally teeming capital Kinshasa came to a standstill Monday as people stayed home in fear of violence after the government banned a planned protest against President Joseph Kabila.
Shops were shuttered and streets empty in the city of 10 million people at midday, with security forces posted at key intersections.
“With police everywhere I decided to stay home,” street vendor Brel Kabeya said.
Police on Sunday slapped a ban on political protests and warned that gatherings of 10 or more “will be broken up” after the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), called for countrywide anti-Kabila rallies on Monday.
There was no sign of a protest in Kinshasa, however, or in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo’s second city, where police and troops were out in force and many shops shuttered.
In the eastern city of Goma, police clashed with protesters trying to build barricades and burn tyres.
Tension has been mounting across the vast mineral-rich nation of 71 million people since December, when Kabila’s second and final term officially ended but elections failed to be held.
On New Year’s Eve, pro-government and opposition groups agreed to a deal brokered by the influential Roman Catholic Church that sought to avert a full-fledged crisis.
It said Kabila, 45, would remain in office until elections in late 2017, ruling in tandem with a transitional watchdog and a new premier chosen from within the ranks of the opposition “Rassemblement” (Unity) coalition.
But the death of coalition leader, veteran UDPS chief Etienne Tshisekedi, held up the deal.
And meanwhile the coalition has struggled to live up to its name, flying apart over a push by Tshisekedi’s son, Felix, to take over the party helm.
Last week, Kabila added to the tension by naming UDPS dissident Bruno Tshibala as the new opposition prime minister, a move slammed by Felix Tshisekedi, who on Sunday left the country.
Tshibala had been excluded from the UDPS and the coalition for opposing him.