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Congo imprisons opposition leader following public rally

(Reuters) – An opposition leader in Democratic Republic of Congo was imprisoned on Tuesday after he spoke at a rally calling on President Joseph Kabila to respect constitutional term limits and step aside in presidential elections due in 2016.

Jean Bertrand Ewanga, general secretary of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), was arrested around 6 a.m. on Tuesday and taken to court the same day, accused of insulting the president and inciting tribal tensions by demanding that Kabila return to Rwanda after 2016.

Rwanda has repeatedly led military operations and sponsored rebellions in eastern Congo during Kabila’s 13 year rule, and the president’s critics accuse him of collaborating with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

“The language he used is not appropriate for a politician,” Public Prosecutor Floribert Kabange Numbi told Reuters. “We were happy for the other speakers (at the rally) to criticize the president, but to insult him personally is not acceptable.”

A special chamber was convened to review his case and Ewanga was ordered to be detained under house arrest; however, he was subsequently imprisoned in Makala prison in the capital Kinshasa, witnesses to the proceedings said. There was no timeframe for his release.

The witnesses told Reuters that supreme court judges had concerns over a lack proof and the speed with which Ewanga was brought to court.

Speculation is rife in the Congolese capital Kinshasa that Kabila, who wants to stand for election again in 2016, will seek to revise the constitution, which limits presidents to two five-year mandates. Opposition parties came together at Monday’s rally to demand the constitution be respected.

“This arrest is a well-calculated act that aims to muzzle the opposition because, for once, the government has the impression that we are united. Until now they have relied on divisions among the opposition,” said spokesman Makalele.

Kabila is this week attending a summit of African leaders in Washington, where U.S. officials said they had received no assurances from the president that he will stand aside in 2016.

Kabila came to power in 2001 after his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, was assassinated by one of his presidential guard. Joseph Kabila then won Congo’s first democratic elections in 2006 and retained power in 2011 in a poll that was criticized by the U.N. peacekeeping mission there for irregularities.

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