Kinshasa - The main opposition party in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday blasted as a "provocation" and a power grab an announcement that elections to end a deep political crisis in the mineral-rich country will likely not be held this year.
The president of DRC's electoral commission, Corneille Nangaa, had told reporters in Paris on Friday that "it will not be possible" to hold presidential and legislative elections "before the end of the year".
But the opposition views it as a move to keep President Joseph Kabila in power.
"Corneille Nangaa is helping Joseph Kabila to achieve his plan to hold on to power," Augustin Kabuya, spokesperson for the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UPDS), said. "It is a provocation. It's not responsible".
"We will not let this happen," he added.
Elections are due this year under a transitional deal brokered last New Year's Eve, aimed at avoiding fresh political violence in the vast central African country after Kabila failed to step down when his mandate ended in December.
Under the deal, Kabila, 46, was allowed to remain in office until elections in late 2017, ruling in tandem with a transitional watchdog and a new prime minister chosen from within the ranks of the opposition.
Kabila took office after his father Laurent Kabila's assassination in 2001. He was elected president in 2006 and again in 2011.
We "condemn in the strongest possible terms this unilateral decision, illegal and anti-democratic," read a statement by a coalition of 33 NGOs that has been pushing the government to respect the country's constitution, which sets a two-term limit for the presidency.
The group charged that Nangaa has been subtly enabling a "power without legitimacy" which is "aggravating a political and social crisis".
It called on civil society and other partners, local and international, to reject the Nangaa's announcement and urged setting an electoral calendar.
Nangaa had cited ongoing security issues in the country's troubled central Kasai region for the delays which previously forced electoral officials to postpone voter registration in two provinces there.
The violence in Kasai erupted last September after the death in clashes of a tribal chieftain, known as the Kamwina Nsapu, who rebelled against the authority of Kabila's regime and its local representatives.
The killing sparked gross violations of human rights such as extrajudicial killings, rapes, mutilations, torture and the use of child soldiers, according to rights groups and the United Nations.
A tally by the Roman Catholic Church said the brutal violence has claimed more than 3 300 lives and displaced 1.3 million people - more than 600 000 of them children, the UN children's agency said.
Nangaa said the commission was "working wholeheartedly to organise these elections" and fix the delays, and that voter registration in Kasai, which had been postponed indefinitely because of the unrest, was due to resume "before the month of August".
For the UPDS, the transitional deal remains the only viable solution to resolve DRC's political crisis.
"Naanga has declared war against the Congolese people with his declaration proving his allegiance" to Kabila, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi tweeted on Sunday.
Felix Tshisekedi is the son of veteran UPDS chief Etienne Tshisekedi, who before his death in February had headed the opposition coalition that negotiated the deal with Kabila's government.
The party, along with other opposition groups, led numerous demonstrations in the days following Kabila's refusal to step down, resulting in deadly clashes with armed police.
At least 40 people were killed and more than 100 injured, the UN said, and over 450 people were arrested.
DRC has never seen a democratic transfer of power following polls since independence from Belgium in 1960.