Blinken concerned over detention of Congo opposition figure

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards his plane at N’Djili International Airport in Kinshasa, Congo, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, to travel to Rwanda. Blinken is on a ten day trip to Cambodia, Philippines, South Africa, Congo, and Rwanda. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said he was “concerned” about reports of the detention of an opposition political leader in Congo.

On the second day of his visit to the central African nation, Blinken said his delegation was “trying to get more facts” about the opposition figure’s detention which he said had happened “in the last 24 hours.” Blinken said his delegation had raised the issue with Congo’s government and he called it a “possible setback” in establishing “the right environment” for elections.

“We have full respect for the laws of the DRC (Congo) but we are concerned about any steps taken that could actually reduce the political space, especially as the country heads into elections,” Blinken said.

The secretary of state was speaking at an event promoting democracy in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, as part of his three-nation African tour.

Jean-Marc Kabund, the former vice president of the National Assembly and former ally of President Felix Tshisekedi, was placed under provisional detention Tuesday following his interrogation by the prosecutor general, according to his lawyer. He is being investigated for making public insults and harmful accusations that were of offense to the president, local reports said.

Kabund has was ousted as vice president of the National Assembly and head of Tshisekedi’s party earlier this year for criticizing the president. Kabund then formed his own party.

Also on Wednesday, Blinken met with Congo’s Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde for discussions that included Congo’s security, economy and environment.

Blinken also hosted guests including Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege at the U.S. Embassy.

Before leaving for Rwanda, his third and final stop in Africa, Blinken reiterated the United States’ willingness and availability to work with Congo on the issues discussed.

“The agenda that we have on various topics, whether it’s food security issues, whether it’s climate preservation issues, whether it’s the work we do together to support democracy, to help to restore peace and security in (Congo’s) East … All these subjects demonstrate both the depth and the importance of our relations. We are delighted to be able to work together,” Blinken said.

While Blinken was in Congo, the U.S. State Department announced the allocation of up to $23.75 million to support the country’s general elections scheduled for 2023. The funding is to support the electoral system, improve civic and voter education, and help marginalized communities to understand and participate in the political process, said a statement.

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