Soldiers sealed part of Congo’s second city and carried out mass arrests of young men on Thursday, residents said, as talks to defuse the country’s explosive political crisis continued.

Protests and deadly clashes have erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo over President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate on December 20.

The army sealed off the Matshipisha-Gbadolite neighbourhood of Lubumbashi from 5 am (0300 GMT), five residents of the city told AFP. The operation was concluded by early afternoon, said the police commander in Haut-Katanga province, Jean-Bosco Galenga.

On Wednesday the region’s governor Jean-Claude Kazembe was forced to flee as stones were thrown at him when he tried to visit Matshipisha on a “peace march” aimed at demonstrating that the authorities were in control there following deadly violence on Tuesday.

“The objective of sealing off (the area) was to retrieve three weapons stolen from police during clashes on 20 and 22 December (when) two police stations were looted,” said Galenga.