KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Authorities in Congo issued an arrest warrant Thursday for the country's top opposition candidate on charges he hired mercenaries, a move his supporters say is aimed at derailing his bid for the presidency in the November election.
The move came after Moise Katumbi was summoned to court several times on the allegations following his announcement he would run against longtime incumbent President Joseph Kabila.
Katumbi, a former governor and longtime president of the TP Mazembe soccer team, has been hospitalized because of an unknown ailment since late last week. The temporary arrest warrant issued for him said he was still under the care of doctors in Lubumbashi.
Jean-Joseph Mukendi Wa Mulumba, one of the attorneys representing Katumbi, told a private radio station in the capital that he didn't want to comment on the report until he had been officially notified of the charges.
Katumbi supporters believe that authorities want to arrest him so that he is ineligible to take part in the election. Back in March, government authorities brought four of Katumbi's bodyguards, including one American, to the capital of Kinshasa and accused them of being mercenaries.
Kabila took office in 2001, after the assassination of his father, and is barred by the constitution from seeking another term. He has not commented on his political future despite the debate over what could happen later this year.
However, a court recently ruled that he could stay in power beyond December if the elections were delayed so as to ensure the country still has a head of state.
Congo, an enormous country with vast mineral resources, was beset by decades of dictatorship and then back-to-back civil wars after its independence from Belgium in 1960. Scores of militia groups and rebels continue to destabilize the country's east more than two decades after the end of the Rwandan genocide, when many of those who carried out the killings fled across the border into eastern Congo.