Congo police Wednesday used tear gas and stun batons against thousands of supporters of powerful opposition figure Moise Katumbi, who stormed a courthouse protesting allegations he had hired foreign mercenaries.
The police action came after Katumbi backers forced their way inside as he was due to appear for a second court hearing over his alleged use of mercenaries, including Americans.
The 51-year-old, who is President Joseph Kabila’s leading rival and the former governor of mineral-rich Katanga province, has slammed the allegations as “a grotesque lie” and “machination”.
Police used stun batons to drive out the crowd from inside the court and then fired tear gas to drive them out of the complex.
After that, the flamboyant Katumbi, sporting an all-white outfit and a scarf in the colours of the national flag, entered the court for the closed-door hearing.
The wealthy owner of the prestigious Tout-Puissant Mazembe football club, three-time winner of the African Champions League, is accused of hiring several foreign mercenaries, notably Americans, as his private guards.
Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba told a news conference on Wednesday that there was “documented proof” that former American soldiers and South Africans were among the foreigners working for Katumbi in Katanga.
Katumbi last week said he would run against Kabila in elections due this year, but whose dates have not been announced, triggering domestic and international concern that Kabila plans to extend his tenure by changing the constitution.
Katumbi was an ally of Kabila for a decade but quit the ruling party in November over the president’s decision to split several provinces, including Katanga, formerly the size of Spain but now carved up into four separate entities.