KINSHASA Congolese police deployed heavily across the capital Kinshasa on Monday as opposition calls for a general strike after a breakdown in talks with President Joseph Kabila's allies last week raised fears of renewed violence.
Security forces in Democratic Republic of Congo killed dozens in protests over election delays last year but the strike appeared to be peaceful on Monday morning as stores and banks were shuttered and streets quiet.
With police deployed at bus stops and intersections, there were only a handful of cars on the central boulevard in Kinshasa, a city of more than 10 million people, and the normally bustling central market was shut.
"I couldn't go to work... It's my way of supporting the opposition. We want change," said an employee of the central bank who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.
Kabila's failure to step down when his two-term mandate expired in December has further destabilised the loosely governed central African giant, where millions died in regional wars from 1996-2003.
Catholic bishops helped negotiate a deal in December that required Kabila to step down following elections before the end of 2017 but withdrew from their mediation role last week after implementation stalled.
The decision prompted sporadic unrest in Kinshasa last week and the country's largest opposition party, the UDPS, has called for a nationwide protest on April 10.
The eastern city of Goma was also quiet on Monday except for a strong military presence, residents said. In the mining hub of Lumbumbashi, a storekeeper said businesses were opening but several hours late.
"This is a message to the leaders to tell them that things are not right," said Bijoux Kahambu, a Goma resident.
Repeated strikes and demonstrations by the opposition last year failed to force Kabila to stand down at the end of his mandate, and the government said it planned to get on with business as usual.
The presidency said in a statement that Kabila would consult with "different groups of the concerned political and social class" on Monday and Tuesday in order to revive the December accord.
Kabila denies opposition charges that he is trying to cling to power, saying the election delays are due to challenges registering millions of voters.
Congo has never experienced a peaceful transition of power and an insurgency in its central Kasai region has killed hundreds since last August.
(Writing by Nellie Peyton and Aaron Ross; Editing by Catherine Evans)