DRC opposition politician grilled over mercenaries

2016-05-09 22:31
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Lubumbashi - Powerful opposition DR Congo politician Moise Katumbi, President Joseph Kabila's leading rival, appeared before prosecutors Monday over government allegations he hired foreign mercenaries.

The billionaire of mixed descent and former governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province was cheered by hundreds of supporters shouting anti-government slogans as he entered the court.

The charismatic owner of the prestigious Tout-Puissant Mazembe football club, three-time winner of the African Champions League, is accused of hiring several foreign mercenaries, notably Americans.

Katumbi was an ally of Kabila for a decade but quit the ruling party in November over the president's plans to split several provinces, including Katanga.

The 51-year-old plans to run against Kabila in elections due this year but the dates have still not been announced and there is mounting concern that Kabila might try and prolong his tenure by changing the constitution.

Katumbi is a major political player in the giant central African country.

"He has absolutely nothing to hide," said Olivier Kamitatu, of G7, a coalition of seven opposition parties supporting Katumbi's candidature.

Kamitatu called for international observers to be present at the hearing - which is being held behind closed doors - to avoid any miscarriage of justice.

On Wednesday, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said he had ordered a probe into allegations that Katumbi had recruited foreign mercenaries including Americans and South Africans.

Katumbi described the accusations as a "grotesque lie", saying his opponents were "simply looking to harm me" and that he would never take up arms to secure power.

The same day, Katumbi confirmed he would accept an opposition coalition's nomination as its presidential candidate.

'Life in danger'

The following day Katumbi asked the UN mission in the country for protection, saying he felt he was "in danger".

He said his home had been surrounded by security forces and two of his bodyguards had been arrested.

DR Congo authorities are under pressure from the international community to hold the presidential poll as planned in November before Kabila's second - and constitutionally last - mandate ends.

DR Congo has been in crisis since Kabila's re-election in late 2011 in polls marred by irregularities and massive fraud. His second term expires in December and the constitution bars him from standing again.

Last month police in the southeast of the country fired tear gas to break up a demonstration by 5 000 people in the latest unrest triggered by fears that Kabila plans to extend his rule into a third term.

Katumbi's appeal for UN protection came on the same day former lawmaker Vano Kiboko was released from prison after serving a 16-month sentence for "inciting tribal hatred".

Kiboko, a Katumbi ally, had opposed a revision of the constitution allowing Kabila to run for a third term. He was convicted and sentenced last year.

Read more on:    joseph kabila  |  democratic republic congo  |  central africa

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