Tens of thousands of people rallied in Kinshasa on Friday, in support of Congolese President Joseph Kabila just two days after his leading opponent returned home to a massive welcome.
Political tension is high in the country as the opposition fears that Kabila, whose mandate ends in December, will delay elections in a bid to cling on to power.
“We came here to affirm our support for Joseph Kabila,” Aubin Minaku, secretary general of the ruling majority and president of the national assembly, told a crowd estimated at over 40,000, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.
“Kabila, stay as long as possible,” the crowd shouted, alluding to the political controversy raging in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In power since his father’s assassination in 2001, Kabila is suspected by opponents of eyeing a third term which would involve changing the constitution’s two-term limit.
Opposition protests erupted after the Constitutional Court ruled in May that Kabila could remain in office in a caretaker capacity beyond the end of his current mandate ending December.
But now the DRC’s opposition has achieved the rare feat of rallying behind a single figure, the immensely popular Etienne Tshisekedi who returned home Wednesday from Belgium where he had been medevaced in 2014.
The 83-year-old first emerged as a leading opposition voice as far back as the 1980s when he became a critic of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
In the DRC’s last presidential election in 2011, he ran second to Kabila but contended he was denied victory by massive fraud.
Thousands of supporters flanked his motorcade as it crawled its way into the city of 11 million people on Wednesday. An opposition rally is scheduled for Sunday.
At the Kabila rally on Friday, Meta, a sociology student at Kinshasa University, said they “were given a free T-shirt,” but denied they had received money to show up for the event.