BRUSSELS: The European Union on Thursday lashed out at DR Congo's decision to expel its ambassador, calling the move "completely unjustified", just three days before crucial elections in the vast central African country.
DR Congo Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu earlier told the EU it had 48 hours to withdraw its representative in retaliation for sanctions against 14 officials, including President Joseph Kabila's handpicked candidate for the long-delayed vote.
An EU spokesman told AFP the bloc "regrets this decision and considers it as completely unjustified".
"On the eve of very challenging elections in DRC, such a decision can only be considered counterproductive."
On December 10, EU foreign ministers extended a travel ban and asset freeze on 14 figures over "the obstruction of the electoral process and the related human rights violations".
That included Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a hardline former interior minister chosen by Kabila to be the candidate for his succession in Sunday's presidential election.
She Okitundu said the DRC had "patiently" sought to persuade the EU to either drop or suspend the sanctions "until the elections in the DRC had been held".
But as these appeals had failed, he said the expulsion of the EU head of mission Bart Ouvry, a Belgian national, "on one side punishes the reprehensible behaviour (of the EU) and on the other comes under the framework of reciprocity".
Delayed several times, the election will be the country's first presidential ballot in seven years.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has not had a peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960.