Congolese opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba returned home on Wednesday after a decade in prison in The Hague for a presidential run expected to pose a stiff challenge to President Joseph Kabila or his successor in December’s election.
Bemba, whose war crimes convictions at the International Criminal Court (ICC) were quashed on appeal in May, touched down at Kinshasa’s N’Djili airport where thousands of cheering supporters wore T-shirts, hats, scarves and robes bearing his image.
“The Congolese people have waited for this moment for a long time,” said Toussaint Bodongo, a member of Bemba’s MLC party. “Bemba will maybe bring the solution that we need to Congo.”
The former vice president and warlord’s return is expected to energise opposition in Democratic Republic of Congo to Kabila, who has been in power since his father’s assassination in 2001 and is barred by constitutional term limits from standing for a new term.
His party announced on Monday that they had permission to land in Kinshasa but had differences over the route he should take once he landed.
While party officials negotiated for Bemba to visit the provincial headquarters and national headquarters of the MLC, before making his way to a private residence in the town of Gombe, the police decided that he could not have stopovers.
“We’re not campaigning so there is no reason why the procession has to make a stopover. These are security measures and we told the MLC authorities that this procession will go at a minimum speed of 30 KM/H,” the Kinshasa police chief told local news agency ACTUALITE.CD on Wednesday.
Security at the Lumumba Boulevard had been reinforced, with deployment of heavily armed police officers and patrols across the city, ahead of Bemba’s return.