Opponents of Congolese President Joseph Kabila began a general strike on Tuesday to demand he steps down when his mandate expires in December.
Police fired teargas to disperse a few hundred protesters who had gathered at the headquarters of the largest opposition party in the Kinshasa district of Limete, a Reuters witness said.
In the city centre rush hour seemed lighter than usual, and in the surrounding suburbs, especially opposition strongholds such as Limete, many Congolese stayed at home and shops were boarded up. There were no reports so far of any impact in the mining sector, where foreign firms have big investments.
The government opened a round of talks on Tuesday on the timetable for elections that were due to be held in November but will be delayed because nothing is ready. The opposition is boycotting the talks, which it sees as a delaying tactic facilitated by a Kabila ally, Togolese diplomat Edem Kodjo.
“The government’s provocations, its inconsistencies, are increasing as they seek to corrupt the facilitator to rig the outcome of the dialogue,” opposition spokesman Bruno Tshibala said on Radio France International, whose FM station was off air locally, as it often is on opposition protest days.
“That’s why we decided to launch this general strike.”
A government spokesman dismissed the strike as the work of “some radicals … having some old fashioned fun”.
Kabila’s opponents accuse him of dragging his feet on holding the election in order to cling to power in Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has not seen a peaceful change of government since independence from Belgium in 1960.
He took power when his father was assassinated in 2001, then won his first election in 2006.
Western powers are leaning on Kabila to honour the constitution, which limits a president to two terms, and step down. They fear political tensions could reignite a regional war that killed millions of people between 1996 and 2003.
Congo is a tinderbox of ethnic tensions and political frustration at its extreme poverty despite its huge mineral wealth, especially in the lawless east.
(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Dakar; Editing by Alison Williams)