Opposition leader returns to Congo after 2 years away

AP News
Posted: Jul 27, 2016 4:18 PM
Opposition leader returns to Congo after 2 years away

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — The leader of Congo's main opposition party returned to the country Wednesday after two years away for medical reasons and as tensions grow ahead of November presidential elections.

Etienne Tshisekedi was greeted by thousands of cheering people at the Kinshasa airport after flying in from Belgium. They followed his car as it drove to his home in suburban Kinshasa.

The spokesman for the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, Bruno Tshibala, said 83-year-old Tshisekedi returned "to take things into his hands for political change." The opposition will hold a rally Sunday where he will speak.

Juliette Mpela, 41, arrived at the airport early Wednesday.

"It gives me great joy to see our leader who left us ill but returns healthy. He embodies the change we hope will be alive much longer," she said.

In June, Tshisekedi led a meeting in Brussels of various opposition parties, whose leaders are calling for free and fair elections.

Opposition leaders claim that President Joseph Kabila wants to delay the November vote so he can stay in power past his mandate that expires at the end of the year. Kabila is barred from running for a third term under Congo's constitution.

The opposition wants elections to take place on time. It also wants a review of the electoral commission, which says it needs more time to prepare for the vote.

Congo has never had a peaceful transition of power.

Tshisekedi formed Congo's first opposition party in 1982 to combat the longtime dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.

He lost the 2011 presidential election to Kabila and later contested the results. He left Congo in 2014 for medical treatment.

In 2010, he walked the 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the Kinshasa airport to his suburban home after a triumphant return from medical treatment abroad.