May 20, 2019 / 2:13 PM / 5 months ago

Congolese opposition leader returns home after three years in exile

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi returned home from three years in exile on Monday, one of a series of indicted politicians cleared under the administration of new President Felix Tshisekedi.

Moise Katumbi in a file photo. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe/File Photo

Thousands of supporters came out to welcome Katumbi at the airpoirt in Lubumbashi, the main city in his political heartland in Democratic Republic of Congo’s southern copper-mining Katanga region.

“I’m happy to be back home, the truth always triumphs,” he said.

Tshisekedi has pardoned 700 prisoners including three political opponents of his prececessor Joseph Kabila since coming to power in January.

His supporters have said the moves point to a new era political openness after years of suppression of opposition figures.

Katumbi fled the country in May 2016 in the face of accusations he had hired mercenaries as part of a plot against Kabila’s government.

He was then sentenced in absentia to three years in prison for real estate fraud - both charges his supporters said were aimed at preventing him from running in an election to replace Kabila.

But Katumbi’s fraud conviction was overturned by an appeals court last month. And prosecutors said they had also dropped their investigations into the mercenary accusations “given that the president of the republic has made easing political tensions his priority”. [nL5N22C9MW]

Tshisekedi was declared winner in long-delayed presidential elections in Dec. 30, 2018, defeating a candidate officially backed by Kabila whose own term limit was up.

Several other opposition factions said the result was rigged in a secret deal between Kabila’s and Tshisekedi’s camps, a charge they both denied.

Reporting by Fiston Mahamba and Stanis Bujakera; Writing by Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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