Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have ordered the blocking of social networking websites including Facebook and Twitter, as well as WhatsApp, before President Joseph Kabila's mandate expires at midnight on Sunday.

The government order, sent to at least three internet providers and seen by AFP news agency on Thursday, will probably hamper the organisation of public protests against Kabila.

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The letter from Congo's Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ARPTC) requires the "temporary blocking of sharing of images, video and voice [data] over the network" from 11:59pm local time (2259GMT) on Sunday, but gave no reason for the orders.

It gave a non-exhaustive list of platforms subject to the block that includes Skype.

"In cases where partial blocking is not possible, you are required to block access to the relevant social networks entirely," it said.

Text messages will continue to function as normal.

The government's plan was first raised on Tuesday at a meeting of the ARPTC.

"The ARPTC verbally instructed us during the meeting to filter connections on social networks," one internet company executive said, before adding the "trials are likely to be carried out overnight Thursday [into] Friday".

"We will comply with what has been demanded," said a manager at one of the affected internet providers. "It's part of our [legal] obligations."

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An executive at another affected ISP said disregarding the order would result in offending providers having their licences terminated. Two providers have indicated to AFP they will go ahead with the necessary technical tests to determine if they can impose the block as requested.

No elections

Political tensions are running high in the country in the run-up to the constitutional end of President Kabila's second and final term on December 20.

No elections have been organised and the opposition accuses him of seeking to retain power.

Under a controversial ruling by the Constitutional Court, Kabila may remain in office beyond the end of his mandate.

Kabila's failure to step aside has led to protests in which dozens have been killed.

On Monday, the European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on seven top DRC security officials because of "a disproportionate use of force".

The opposition has warned of nationwide protests from Monday until Kabila quits office. But rallies are on hold while the Roman Catholic Church mediates last-ditch negotiations to bring about a political transition towards elections.

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Source: News agencies