Barred DRC opposition leader to try entry via Zambia

Exiled opposition leader Moise Katumbi will not attempt to land in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after being barred from entering the country, but will instead try to enter via Zambia, his party said on Friday.

Katumbi, 53, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since May 2016, had planned to fly from Johannesburg to his former stronghold of Lubumbashi in a bid to stand in long-delayed December elections in the DRC.

But the city's mayor said on Thursday that he would be refused entry.

Katumbi's spokesperson Olivier Kamitatu said "authorisation to fly over and land had been refused by Kinshasa".

"We will take off in the direction of (Zambian city) Ndola to take the road to Lubumbashi," Kamitatu tweeted.

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At least two police checkpoints were set up to screen access to Lubumbashi's airport on Friday morning and the main road to Zambia had been blocked by a truck, an AFP journalist said.

"As you can see, we are waiting for the president (Katumbi), but those in power do not want him to be there," said Katumbi's brother Abraham Soriano.

Katumbi's entourage could not confirm on Friday that he had left Johannesburg for Zambia.

The former governor of the mineral-rich southern province of Katanga had once been close to long-serving President Joseph Kabila before the two had a falling out.

If Katumbi does return he faces possible arrest after being handed a three-year jail term in absentia in June 2016 in a case of alleged property fraud, charges he denies.

Another rival of Kabila, former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, returned to the country and officially launched his bid for the presidency this week.

The DRC has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence in 1960 - and some experts fear that the December 23 elections may trigger a bloody conflict.

Kabila, 47, has been at the helm since 2001, presiding over a vast mineral-rich country with a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest.

He was scheduled to stand down at the end of 2016 after his second elected term, technically the last permitted under the constitution.

Kabila has refused to spell out whether he will seek a new term in the vote. Candidates must submit their applications by August 8 and physically be in the country to do so.

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