Kinshasa: Lawmakers in the Democratic Republic of Congo were set Sunday to adopt a new election law after scrapping controversial elements that triggered days of deadly protests against President Joseph Kabila.
The ruling majority agreed to remove articles in the legislation that required the completion of a vast census before the next scheduled election in 2016, a move that would have allowed the Kabila to extend his stay in power.
Three days of demonstrations against the bill last week spiralled out of control, with security forces firing live bullets and tear gas at protesters who hurled rocks and set fire to tyres and buildings. Shops were also looted.
Right groups reported several dozen people were killed in the violence before the government climbed down on Saturday, while the authorities put the death toll at 12.
Opposition leaders complained that the population count in the giant central African country would take up to three years to finish, which would enable Kabila to stay in power beyond 2016 despite being constitutionally barred from running again.
"This is a victory... because there won`t be (a delay) of the presidential election," Vital Kamerhe, head of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation, told AFP on Saturday.
However, a source close to the government said opposition leaders "are jumping the gun in crying victory," and warned the "retreat is only a tactic by the presidential clan."
That view appeared to be shared by one diplomat following a meeting with Kabila Saturday, when European ambassadors and the head of the UN mission in the troubled country voiced their concern over the violence.
"We wonder what`s actually behind this," said the diplomat, who added that he had previously been struck by Kabila`s "clear determination" to drive the contested bill into law.
Kabila, 43, came to power in the mineral-rich country in January 2001 when politicians rushed to make the young soldier head of state after the assassination of his father, rebel-turned-president Laurent Kabila.
He was elected to the presidency in a UN-sponsored vote in 2006, and returned to power in a hotly-disputed election in 2011.
Last` week`s unrest is the latest upheaval to rock the former Zaire, which has been plagued by wars at a cost of millions of lives and weakened by decades of misrule.