June 25, 2018 / 5:04 PM / 6 months ago

Congo's Katumbi open to opposition coalition that could include Bemba

DAKAR (Reuters) - Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi said on Monday he was in favour of a coalition that could include another opposition figure, Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is expected back in the country soon after his war crimes convictions were quashed on appeal.

FILE PHOTO: Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition Presidential candidate Moise Katumbi talks to his supporters after leaving the prosecutor's office in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

Katumbi, Bemba, and Felix Tshisekedi, leader of Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest opposition party, are the main likely opposition contenders in a December presidential vote to choose a successor to President Joseph Kabila.

Bemba, a popular former rebel leader and vice president, left Congo in 2007 and has spent the last 10 years in prison in The Hague. But he is expected back in Congo in July and could participate in the vote.

Katumbi said he had visited Bemba several times during his 10-year detention to show support.

“I am in favour of a union of all opposition parties, including with Bemba, who is a major actor. Unity is strength,” Katumbi said, during a question-and-answer session on Twitter.

Katumbi added that he was also on good terms with Tshisekedi and they all had the same objective, ending Kabila’s rule.

It remains unclear whether the three opposition figures can agree on a single candidate for the presidency.

Kabila has not yet ruled out trying to circumvent term limits to stand again, keeping the country in suspense ahead of what could be its first democratic transition of power.

If he decides not to seek another mandate, Kabila could anoint a ruling party successor who could benefit from the party’s machinery and deep coffers.

Katumbi, who is currently in Europe, said he planned to return to Kinshasa between July 24 and Aug. 8 to register for the vote.

The millionaire businessman and former governor of Congo’s copper-producing Katanga province, said a decision by authorities to cancel his Congolese passport, and questions over his nationality, were government manoeuvres aimed at stopping him from participating in the vote.

“Rest assured, I’m Congolese and I’ll be a candidate. I’ll campaign in the country, it is my right. Fear nothing,” Katumbi said, responding to questions on Twitter.

Writing by Bate Felix; editing by Andrew Roche

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