‘Dead Cities’ strike starts in Congo as Kabila opponents protest

Opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo began a nationwide strike Tuesday to protest what they say are efforts by President Joseph Kabila to hang on to power.

Groups including La Dynamique, a coalition known as the G7 and the Union for Democracy and Social Progress have called on students and workers to stay home across the country. Most of Congo’s opposition parties back the strike, known as “villes- mortes,” or dead cities, after the late endorsement of the protest by the UDPS, the largest group opposed to Kabila’s rule.

“The population is observing the strike,” Jean Lucien Bussa, leader of the opposition Party of Democrats and Reformists, said by phone from Kinshasa. “In all of the neighborhoods of Kinshasa, the schools are closed, people are not going out. In the provinces – Mbandaka, Bukavu, Goma – it’s the same thing.”

Congo , the world’s largest source of cobalt and Africa’s biggest miner of copper and tin, is scheduled to hold presidential elections in November as part of a series of votes scheduled for this year. The opposition says the crowded election program will be used to postpone the presidential vote and allow Kabila to remain in power. Kabila won elections in 2006 and 2011 and the constitution bars him from running for a third term.

The government told all public employees to come to work and that attendance will be checked in state offices.

“Any lateness or absence” will be punished, Employment Minister Willy Makiashi said in a written statement.

Feb. 16 is the anniversary of a 1992 protest against former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko during which security forces killed at least 33 people Christian demonstrators in Kinshasa. Violence during protests by opposition supporters in the city in January 2015 left at least 36 people dead, including 21 people shot dead by security forces, according to Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group.

 – Bloomberg