France says Congo election delay not answer to crisis

October 18, 2016 7:19 AM EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - A decision to push back presidential elections in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to 2018 is not the answer to the crisis there and risks fuelling an escalation in violence, French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

The Constitutional Court in Democratic Republic of Congo said on Monday it had approved a petition by the electoral commission to delay a presidential election set for November, allowing President Joseph Kabila to remain in office until April 2018.

"There is only way to get out of the crisis and that is that president does not present himself and arranges elections," Ayrault told reporters.

"Pushing back the election to 2018, an uncertain date is not the solution. There is a real risk of a clash. There is a danger of violent demonstrations and repression," Ayrault said.

Kabila was due to step down in December when his two-term mandate expires, and his opponents say they fear he intends to first prolong his term in office, and then change the constitution to enable himself to run again.

The ruling coalition and part of the opposition say the vote should be held in April 2018 and on Monday their agreement was ratified by delegates at cross-party talks in the capital, one party leader said.

Most opposition parties have boycotted the talks and called for a general strike on Wednesday to put pressure on Kabila.

European Union foreign ministers said on Monday they would prepare economic sanctions against Congo unless it held presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

"We are consulting on what needs to be done and this is one option," Ayrault said, adding that the EU was coordinating with the United States on the matter.

The U.N. envoy to Congo and head of the 18,000-strong peacekeeping mission, Maman Sidikou, told the Security Council last week there was an "extreme risk" to the stability of the country and that the crisis could spark large-scale violence.

A senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday that the peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO, planned to move more troops and police to Kinshasa in preparation.

"We're going to move in a battalion and an extra FPU (formed police unit), but of course if things really turn bad what will that do in a city of 11 million people?" the official said.

(Reporting By John Irish in Paris and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Andrew Callus and Andrew Hay)

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