Catholic leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo have said that they hope for lasting peace after brokering an 11th-hour deal between the government and the opposition.

The agreement stipulates that President Joseph Kabila step down after an election later this year. If successful, it would be the first peaceful transition of power in the country since independence in 1960.

Protests at Mr Kabila’s refusal to leave office led to dozens of deaths last month. Mgr Leonard Santedi Kinkupu, rector of Kinshasa’s Catholic University and former secretary-general of the bishops’ conference, said: “We’re all saluting this great step, the fruit of a dialogue arranged by the Church.”

“Being a Catholic country has given us an advantage over other African states when it comes to seeking peace, and it’s good the Church and its bishops have been instrumental in bringing this about,” he told the US Catholic News Service.

Mgr Kinkupu said: “The Church has always been involved in the work for peace and could use its moral authority to bring about direct negotiations.” He said there was now “a real chance of sparing our country from further violence, and this is why everyone has welcomed the Church’s engagement and offer of hope.”

In August, the bishops’ conference launched a mediation bid after the opposition accused Mr Kabila of seeking to delay autumn elections, but the bishops withdrew from a national dialogue in October amid worsening violence.

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