Congolese President Joseph Kabila on Tuesday defied calls to step down when his term ends next month and vowed during remarks to lawmakers to defend his government against violent overthrow.
His defiant speech to parliament came as criticism grows following a controversial deal between the government and fringe opposition groups that effectively extends the president’s term in office and delays elections until late 2017.
The deal agreed last month followed a “national dialogue” that was aimed at calming soaring political tensions but was largely boycotted by leading opposition figures.
“The deal currently represents the only roadmap put in place by the Congolese themselves,” said Kabila during the speech to parliamentarians in the capital Kinshasa.
As part of the deal, Augustin Matata resigned as prime minister Monday to make way for an opposition figure to take his place.
The main dissident coalition “Rassemblement” (Gathering) – which has rallied around veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi – has rejected the deal and stepped up its calls for Kabila to leave office by December 19 when his term ends.
‘Fragile and difficult’
“The disinterest shown by some parties… is totally unacceptable,” said Kabila.
“The DRC cannot be taken hostage by the fringe of the political class,” he said as he called on the “Rassemblement” bloc to “come and sign the deal”.
He added that he was ready to defend against any attempt to take over the country by force, pledging that elections would be organised in the coming months.
“‘Rassemblement’ want to ensure the constitution is respected and are open to the idea of talks that could lead to a political compromise which is the only alternative to the current crisis,” said opposition lawmaker Delly Sessanga.
“We should not be trying to one-up each other and play the situation which everyone recognises is both fragile and difficult,” added the “Rassemblement” supporter.
The country has been in a state of crisis since disputed elections in 2011 returned Kabila to office for a second term.
A 2006 constitutional provision limits the presidency to two terms.
Violent anti-Kabila protests on September 19 and 20 triggered by the political instability claimed 53 lives, according to the UN.
Kabila took power in 2001, 10 days after the assassination of his father, the then-president, Laurent Kabila.
Joseph Kabila was first elected to a five-year term as president in 2006. He then won a hotly-disputed election against Tshisekedi in 2011.