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But the immediate response from the opposition is anger and adherence to the New Year's Eve deal."This fanciful schedule is one more manoeuvre by a predator regime which wants to hold onto power indefinitely," said leading opposition figure Moise Katumbi, who accused Kabila of "pillaging" the country.

"The release of an electoral calendar -- while long overdue -- sets a clear timeline for a transition of power," Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday.

In a visit to Kinshasa last month, Haley had demanded that elections be held in 2018 or else face losing international support.

"What interests us right now is the departure of Kabila by December 31, 2017," said Augustin Kabuya, for the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).

Diplomatic response In a crisis that is being intensely followed abroad, the US has become the first of the major powers to throw its weight behind the new electoral calendar but warned it will not brook further postponement.

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The east of the country remains in the grip of unrest, but armed Congolese groups seem unlikely these days to threaten the regime -- as they did in 1997, when Kabila's father, Laurent Kabila, overthrew president Mobutu Sese Seko with help from Rwanda.

In domestic politics, the country's two biggest opposition leaders -- Katumbi and Felix Tshisekedi -- have forged a strategic alliance.

The present crisis brewed after Kabila refused to step down last December on the expiry of his second and final term in office.

The 46-year-old has been president since 2001 after taking over from his assassinated father, Laurent.

He has said he will return to DRC in December, but not spelt out how he can avoid prison.