Arrest warrant issued for DR Congo opposition leader accused of hiring mercenaries

Latest update : 19/05/2016

© Fiston Mahamba / AFP | DR Congo opposition figure Moise Katumbi arrives at the courthouse in Lubumbashi on May 13, 2016, to face questioning over allegations he hired foreign mercenaries.

Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi has been indicted on charges of hiring mercenaries as part of a plot against long-standing President Joseph Kabila, and a warrant is out for his arrest, government spokesman Lambert Mende said on Thursday.

Katumbi, who is running for president in elections scheduled for November, has been accused of hiring mercenaries, including former US soldiers. He denies the allegations.

Mende told AFP that Katumbi “can either be put under house arrest or be jailed”.

"The prosecutors have handed their ruling. He is no longer free and he can no longer do what he wants," Mende said.

Prosecutors said Katumbi had been charged with undermining "the state's internal and external security".

Katumbi was not available for comment on Thursday.

Political tensions are high in Congo, where dozens were killed in January 2015 in protests over a proposed revision of the electoral law that critics said was a ploy to keep Kabila in power beyond the end of his mandate.

Critics accuse Kabila, in power since 2001 and barred by the constitution from seeking re-election in November’s election, of trying to delay the vote to cling to power

The government has said that it is unlikely to be able to organise the poll in time due to budgetary and logistical constraints.

The country’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that Kabila would stay in power beyond the end of his mandate this year if the election does not take place.

‘Constitutional coup d’etat’

In a statement on Friday, leading opposition parties accused the court of supporting a “constitutional coup d’etat” and called for marches across the country on May 26 to demand that Kabila step down this year.

Katumbi, the former governor of Democratic Republic of Congo’s main copper-mining region and a one-time close ally of the president, has claimed the allegations against him are an attempt to derail his presidential campaign.

Human Rights Watch has slammed the case as "targeted actions against a presidential aspirant and close supporters".

Danae Dholakia, Britain's special envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region, said last week: "I sincerely hope that recent accusations made against Moise Katumbi... are not an extension of restrictions" on political freedoms in DRC.

"There are lots of red flashing lights," she said.

On Friday, Katumbi was treated in hospital after police fired tear gas at him and his supporters outside the prosecutor’s office in the southern mining hub of Lubumbashi, his lawyer said, as Kautmbi arrived for questioning over the mercenary allegations.

It was the third time in five days that police have dispersed Katumbi’s supporters amid questioning by the prosecutor that began on Monday, May 9.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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