Genval (Belgium): Veteran Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has said he was ready for dialogue with President Joseph Kabila under international oversight as he called for unity against the government.
DRC opposition figures began a two-day meeting yesterday in Belgium to thrash out a common position against Kabila who is widely believed to want a third term, in contravention of the constitution which allows only two.
Tshisekedi, 83, told them they were gathered "as patriots to exchange views on the grave crisis affecting our country."
"More than ever, we must be united to get rid of you know who," he said, referring to Kabila who has been in power since his father's assassination in 2001.
At the same time, the opposition must be mindful of the possible dangers and get the president "to leave quietly... and not expose the people to bullets," he said.
Tshisekedi, who leads the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), said the opposition could consider dialogue with Kabila but on conditions -- respect for the constitution, release of political prisoners and oversight by the international community to make sure any agreement was implemented.
The meeting at a hotel in Genval near Brussels was called by Tshisekedi who has been convalescing in Belgium since 2014.
Moise Katumbi, a leading DR Congo opposition figure who has announced his candidacy for the presidency, had been expected to attend but sent his closest advisers instead, organisers said.
Katumbi quit the DRC in May ostensibly for medical treatment and is now staying in Britain. He left his country a day after the government announced he would be tried for endangering state security.
Tensions have been soaring in the DRC in recent months over fears that Kabila will postpone elections due to be held late this year as he manoeuvres to extend his time in office.
Tshisekedi, an opposition leader since the rule of strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, came second to Kabila in a fraud-tainted 2011 election.
His UDPS party, struggling with internal divisions, was the only major opposition group to have shown willingness to negotiate with the government.
No date has yet been set for a new election, and late last year Kabila said he hoped to organise a "national dialogue" aimed at reaching a wide consensus ahead of any poll.
Tshisekedi last appeared in a video in January looking tired and struggling to speak clearly.