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United Nations condemns arrest of Congo opposition members

Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) opposition party, speaks during a press conference in his residence in Kinshasa, DR Congo, on October 12, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The United Nations has called on authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to release the opposition members recently arrested amid a crackdown on dissent by President Joseph Kabila's government.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, made the plea on Monday, a day after Congolese police broke up a meeting by the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi and arrested 28 supporters.

“I urge the Congolese authorities to release immediately and unconditionally those arbitrarily arrested yesterday in Lubumbashi,” said Maman Sidikou, head of the UN mission.

Sidikou said MONUSCO was "deeply concerned by ongoing acts of intimidation" against opposition members and reminded authorities of their duty to guarantee citizens' rights "in accordance with the constitution and international commitments" of DR Congo.

Reports said the arrests took place on the eve of a return to the city of opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi after a long absence. Party sources said 48 were detained.

In a separate incident on Monday, riot police fired teargas canisters to disperse people who had gathered at the city's airport to welcome the opposition leader.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, addresses the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on September 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Tensions are high in DR Congo after Kabila did not step down when his constitutional mandate expired in December.

Kabila's presidential term expired on December 19, 2016, but ruling officials have effectively prolonged his mandate until 2018, claiming that the government would not be able to arrange elections before then.

The opposition accuses Kabila and the electoral commission of having "declared war on the Congolese people" by delaying the poll.

The UN has on several occasions said the current situation has created "tensions and a climate of uncertainty,” and the international community has strongly demanded that a clear poll timetable be released.

Joseph Kabila has run one of the world's least developed countries since the 2001 assassination of his father Laurent.

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