WASHINGTONWASHINGTON (Reuters) - Opposition leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo have called on the United States to impose sanctions on President Joseph Kabila to force him to abide by the Constitution and hold an election due this November to choose his successor.
"We believe that the imposition of sanctions will force Joseph Kabila to reconsider his position and to leave power on the 19th of December this year," said Olivier Kamitatu, a leader of the G7 opposition coalition said in a meeting with Reuters on Monday. "It's high time to block this man."
Critics accuse Kabila, in power since 2001 and barred by the Constitution from seeking re-election in November's election, of trying to delay the vote to cling to power. The government has said it is unlikely to be able to organise the election in time because of budgetary and logistical constraints.
This is the first time that opposition leaders have publicly urged Washington to make good on warnings that it is considering slapping sanctions on Kabila under a 2014 executive order signed by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Sanctions that could include travel bans and freezes on U.S. assets also should be imposed on members of Kabila's inner circle, including his security chief and justice minister, and others involved in crackdowns on the opposition, the opposition leaders told Reuters.
Kamitatu said he and four of his colleagues came to Washington to lobby for sanctions. "If we organise sanctions against Kabila and his clique, we can get good results for democracy," he said.
Several U.S. lawmakers and officials have expressed concern that Congo could explode in serious violence if Kabila refuses to hold the election.
"The situation is very tense. It's a time-bomb," said Francis Kalombo, a lawmaker in Kabila's ruling coalition who fled to France in 2015 after opposing another term for the president. "That's why we're asking the United States to intervene."
Kabuila's government won a ruling last week by the Congo's highest court that Kabila would retain his post if an election is not held.
The opposition leaders charged that Kabila - who they said controls the courts - wants to retain power and pointed to the suppression of opposition gatherings in support of Moise Katumbi, a leading candidate to succeed Kabila. The government accuses him of hiring foreign mercenaries, including former U.S. soldiers, to destabilise Congo.
The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa has rejected those allegations and warned last week that it is "looking actively at the possibility of implementing sanctions" against Kabila.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by John Walcott and Frances Kerry)