BRUSSELS The European Union imposed sanctions on nine more Congo nationals on Monday over "obstruction of the electoral process and related human rights violations" in the central African state, where President Joseph Kabila has overstayed his mandate.
The nine include Congo's current and former interior ministers, the government spokesman and officers of the security forces. They join another seven people already on the EU blacklist which subjects them to asset freezes and travel bans.
One of those targeted, government spokesman Lambert Mende, said: "This will not be without consequences. There will be a reaction."
Congo's government has repeatedly denounced earlier sanctions imposed by the EU and United States as unjustified and illegal, and has threatened diplomatic retaliation.
Political tension in Democratic Republic of Congo is running high after security forces killed dozens during protests over election delays last year.
Kabila, in power since 2001, refused to step down and hold a national vote after his mandate expired in December. He has blamed election delays on budgetary constraints and the challenge of registering millions of voters.
The president struck a deal with the opposition at the end of last year to hold elections by the end of 2017, but talks to implement the agreement broke down in March.
Worsening militia violence has raised fears of a slide back toward the civil wars of the turn of the century that killed millions of people in Congo.
The EU said Congo should hold an election as soon as possible, and expressed concern about excessive use of force by state authorities in managing the security crisis, as well as restrictions on media and bans on demonstrations.
Among the new listings were Evariste Boshab, a close ally of Kabila as his former interior and security minister, and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, who holds the job currently and oversees the police.
Also blacklisted were Mende; Kalev Mutondo, the head of intelligence; and General Eric Ruhorimbere, a commander in central Congo's Kasai region, where the army has been accused of using disproportionate force to put down an insurrection.
Reached by telephone, Mende said he could not immediately comment further because he was out of the country.
Congo mines significant amounts of cobalt, gold, diamonds, copper and tin but remains one of sub-Saharan Africa's poorest countries.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, additional reporting by Joe Bavier; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Alison Williams)