Congo talks near deal for Joseph Kabila to step down in 2017

A deal could be a breakthrough for a country that has not seen a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgian colonial rule in 1960.

Critics saw this week's violence as an attempt to crush dissent and enable the extension of Joseph Kabila's constitutional mandate, which ended on Tuesday after two terms in office. (Reuters)

Critics saw this week's violence as an attempt to crush dissent and enable the extension of Joseph Kabila's constitutional mandate, which ended on Tuesday after two terms in office. (Reuters)

Political parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo paused talks on Saturday, close to a deal under which President Joseph Kabila would leave power in 2017 and elections would be held the same year, participants at the talks said.

The talks between the ruling coalition and opposition parties mediated by a conference of Catholic bishops broke up at around 5:30am local time after about 12 hours of nonstop negotiations and were set to reconvene at 11am.

“At that time ... it will be possible to propose a final document that can be signed this afternoon,” opposition delegate Francois Mwamba said, adding that some points remained outstanding.

READ MORE: Priests urge peace deal amid mounting pressure in DRC

A deal could be a breakthrough for a country that has not seen a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgian colonial rule in 1960. It would also come as a surprise following a week in which security forces killed dozens of people protesting Kabila’s tenure.

Kabila took power after his father, Laurent, was assassinated in 2001. Critics saw this week’s violence as an attempt to crush dissent and enable the extension of his constitutional mandate, which ended on Tuesday after two terms in office.

Under the deal, Kabila would stay in power for a year but the constitution could not be changed to let him run again.

A prime minister would be named from the main opposition bloc and veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi would oversee the deal’s implementation, opposition leaders Martin Fayulu and Jose Endundo told Reuters.

Congo is the fourth most populous nation in Africa and its top copper producer so a deal there could also bolster democracy in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The presidents of neighbouring Rwanda and Congo Republic, changed their constitutions last year to allow themselves to stand for a third term. However, democracy activists across a continent, where some leaders have ruled for decades, say they want to see an end to this practice.

There was no immediate comment from Kabila, whose representatives participated in the talks.

A deal could mark a win for the Catholic church, which bills the talks as an attempt to stop Congo sliding back into war. Millions died during regional conflicts between 1996 and 2003 mainly from hunger and disease and Pope Francis has heaped pressure on all sides to find a peaceful solution.

The head of the U.N. human rights agency said on Friday security forces killed at least 40 and arrested 460 in protests this week.

The violence prompted several nations that provide aid to Congo to condemn Kabila for failing to stand down. A presidential election set for last month was postponed until at least April 2018 because of delays registering voters.

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