Congolese expats rally outside Tel Aviv embassy

"Living here in Israel, I feel free like a bird," said Oscar Olivier, 37, a expatriate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex-Zaire) who has lived in Israel for the past 10 years. Olivier helped organize the demonstration against the Congolese government held outside that country's embassy on Tel Aviv's Rehov Rothschild Friday morning. Congolese citizens living abroad cannot vote in Sunday's national election, but many are still committed opponents of President Joseph Kabila and his government. There are about 120 Congolese living in Israel, but police only gave permission for 30 to attend Friday's protest because of the limited space around the embassy. The participants had prepared a letter explaining their reasons for demonstrating, but police would not let them deliver it to the embassy. "We are rallying against the regime of our country. Even though the election process is supposed to be democratic, we don't think it is," Jean Michelle Bolima, who also helped organize the rally, told The Jerusalem Post before the protest. "The president is supposed to represent the people. We would like to know where he was born, where he went to school, who he studied with and what ranking he had when he served in the army, all those things which could have influenced his beliefs. It cannot be considered a democratic election if we do not know those things," Olivier said. "The only people who are not terrified to stand up against the government of Congo are the citizens who have already left. We are the only ones who aren't afraid to ask the hard questions," he said. According to Olivier, the only reaction from embassy staff during the rally was when some of them peaked out a window and took a few pictures. He said they were probably going to send the pictures back to the Congo to show "we are disobeying the government." Olivier was a well-known student leader in the Congo. "I was imprisoned for my activism and eventually ended up in a situation where I was forced to leave the country," he said. Bolima, who moved to Israel six years ago, has no intention of returning to his native land anytime soon. "I feel that I can make more of a difference in Israel because here I have freedom of speech." The protest was also designed, Bolima said, to show the international community that they did not agree with what was happening in the Congo. Bolima and Olivier criticized Belgium for "supporting the current dictatorship." "We don't want any other country to tell us what's best for us. They seem to think that Kabila is best for our country, when we believe otherwise." said Olivier. Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rudy Ahugelen told the Post, "Belgium does not support any of the presidential candidates. It is an internal issue and has nothing to do with us." "The Belgians are supportive of the democratic process in the upcoming election, as this is the first free election since Congo's independence from Belgium in 1960," Ahugelen said. Asked earlier what effect he thought the rally would have, Olivier said, "Very little. I don't know if the rally will make a difference at all, but in my opinion, it's better to do something than nothing at all."