By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo authorities have delayed elections to make sure the country is better prepared for them, President Joseph Kabila said on Tuesday, answering accusations that the government is dragging its feet to help him to cling onto power.
Congo's electoral commission said on Saturday it expected polls to be delayed until December 2018.
"We have decided to delay the elections to avoid locking out a huge number of people - most of them young voters," Kabila told reporters in Tanzania's commercial capital Dar Es Salaam.
"As many as 10 million unregistered voters could miss out on the chance to vote if we proceed with the elections."
Congo has not had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. Protests over Kabila's perceived attempts to extend his 15 years in power have led to clashes with security forces several times in the past year.
Scores of people have been killed in the violence.
Supporters of Kabila, who was in Tanzania to discuss oil exploration in Lake Tanganyika on the two countries' borders, deny he is behind the delays, which they say are due to logistical and budgetary constraints.
Opposition parties met in the Congolese capital Kinshasa on Tuesday to discuss how to respond to the current political impasse. In a statement, they reiterated their complaint that "the electoral process is blocked at the will of Mr Joseph Kabila".
Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi warned of more protests if Kabila fails to step down and hand over power before his mandate expires on December 19.
"On September 19th, we gave a warning to Mr. Kabila," he said, refering to violent protests in which at least 50 people, mostly demonstrators, were killed.
"On October 19th, we will give him a yellow card - a yellow card signifying that December 19th will be the red card."
Diplomats fear increasing anger among Kabila's opponents is fuelling a political crisis could trigger a repeat of civil wars that killed millions of people between 1996 and 2003. Kabila brushed off such concerns.
"There is no political crisis in Congo ... what is happening at the moment is just some political tension ahead of elections, which is a normal thing in many parts of Africa," he said.
(Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Additional reporting by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Louise Ireland)