DR Congo president opens debate ahead of contentious polls

President Joseph Kabila on Friday launched "consultations" ahead of polls in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where his foes argue he is seeking to cling to power illegitimately.

Kinshasa: President Joseph Kabila on Friday launched "consultations" ahead of polls in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where his foes argue he is seeking to cling to power illegitimately.

"The head of state on Friday starts consultations with all the key forces in the nation," a senior member of the regime told AFP overnight. "He will listen to everybody."

The independent national electoral commission (CENI) in February published a timetable providing for local, provincial and senatorial elections due to start in October and lead up to presidential and parliamentary elections in November 2016.

"For more than a year, the main opposition party (the Union for Democracy and Social Progress) has stepped up demands for a dialogue. The president has responded to the initiative of the UDPS," government spokesman Lambert Mende said during a broadcast on state-run television.

The authorities needed "absolutely to listen to the viewpoints" of the UDPS, Mende said.

The main opposition party categorically rejected the official outcome of the last presidential and parliamentary polls in November 2011, won by Kabila and his supporters after voting marred by massive irregularities, according to observers.

"It`s not by keeping quiet that we can resolve problems," Mende said.Kabila, 43, came to power in wartime in 2001. The constitution bars him from seeking a third elected five-year term at the end of his mandate late next year, but he has refused to comply with opposition demands and publicly announce that he will step down.

After Burkina Faso`s president Blaise Compaore was ousted by a popular uprising last October when he tried to stay in office, the Congolese government dropped a plan to revise the constitution.

The changes proposed were never made public, but the three major opposition parties -- the UDPS, the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) and the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) -- all suspected that the aim was to enable Kabila to stand for a third term.

Kabila is scheduled to receive religious leaders and tribal chiefs before talks with opposition representatives, his own supporters and political bodies. He will then see foreign diplomats and the head of the large UN mission in the country (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler.

No timetable for the series of consultations has been released.

The UDPS has declared itself ready to talk, but party spokesman Bruno Tshibala told AFP that it was up to "Martin Kobler to hold consultations for dialogue, not Mr Kabila", since the president would "assume the right to be judge and jury".

A coalition including the MLC, the UNC, dissident UDPS politicians and members of several dozen small parties oppose the whole debate, which they see as a stalling tactic to enable Kabila to postpone the election and keep his job.

"The position of the MLC is clear: no new forum, set course for the elections," the party`s secretary general, Eve Bazaiba, told AFP, with a call for "permanent dialogue with the CENI and figures involved (in the) elections."

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