Congolese opposition leader home after years in exile

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Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi returned home from three years in exile, one of the indicted politicians cleared under the administration of new President Felix Tshisekedi.

Thousands of supporters came out to welcome Katumbi at the airport 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 home, the truth always triumphs,” he said.

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

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

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

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

Katumbi’s fraud conviction was overturned by an appeals court last month. Prosecutors also dropped investigations into mercenary accusations “given the president of the republic made easing political tension his priority”.

Tshisekedi was declared winner in long-delayed presidential elections last December defeating a candidate officially backed by Kabila whose term limit was up.

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