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Belgium advises citizens to leave DR Congo

REPORTED BY KALAHAN DENG

Belgium has advised all its citizens in the Democratic Republic of Congo whose presence there is not essential to leave the country over fears of violence at planned anti-government protests, Reuters news agency reports.

It has also advised against all travel to the country.

Condemning the expulsion of two Belgian television crews, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said in a statement: “Belgian citizens who remain in the country are requested to exercise utmost caution, in particular during movements.”

An updated travel advice on his ministry’s website cited as reasons for avoiding the DRC: “political tensions, recent measures taken by the authorities to suppress rights and freedoms, the expulsion of Belgian journalists, rumours of the closure of certain airports, the possible restriction of Internet communications and the risk of new demonstrations”.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s term was due to expire on Monday – but the ruling party and one opposition faction say have reached a deal to delay elections until April 2018.

However the negotiations were boycotted by the main opposition parties and there are fears violence could break out when Mr Kabila’s term was originally slated to end.

At least 50 people died in September when protests against moves to delay the election erupted in September. The headquarters of three opposition parties were also attacked and burned down.

In October the UN Security Council warned that the country was at “extreme risk” of descending into widespread violence.

The authorities have halted all football matches in the country over violence fears. Anti-Kabila chants are frequently heard at matches.

There are also reports that the government has ordered internet service providers to block social media. Rights group Amnesty said the order was a “blatant attempt to keep the Congolese people in the dark at a critical time”.

Earlier this week a Bloomberg investigation found that Mr Kabila and his family had a vast network of business interests, suggesting these could suffer if he were to stand down immediately.