Celebrations in Congo as former warlord Bemba returns
Thousands of supporters gathered Wednesday in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo to welcome former warlord Jean-Pierre-Bemba on his return to the country.
Bemba, 55, a former vice-president of the country arrived from Belgium after spending more than ten years in prison in the Hague for war crimes. His conviction was overturned in June by the International Criminal Court.
A large crowd of his supporters wearing T-shirts, hats and scarves emblazoned with his face met him at the airport as he arrived via private jet from Belgium.
Police in his envoy fired tear gas to disperse his supporters to allow Bemba’s convoy to speed past, as they drove from Kinshasa airport to the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) party headquarters where he was swamped by party supporters, according to media reports.
Bemba, who led the MLC party before his arrest, became one of the country’s four vice presidents in 2003.
He has announced plans to contest in the country’s general elections in December.
His political ambitions could shake the political climate in DR Congo where President Joseph Kabila rules the country with an iron fist.
Kabila succeeded his father in 2001 and has refused to step down from power and tried to change the constitution last year to extend his term in office.
Kabila has not declared whether he will stand for re-election and it remains unclear whether he will relinquish power to a new leader.
Bemba, a former warlord, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on March 21, 2016.
He was convicted for several acts commmitted between October 2002 and March 2003- crimes committed by MLC troops sent to the neighbouring Central African Republic to quell a coup attempt under his command at the time.
But the International Criminal Court ruled Bemba could not be held responsible for the troops’ crimes and released him to authorities in Belgium pending a final ruling in another case.