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Crowds throng Kinshasa airport as opposition leader Tshisekedi returns to DRC

Eduardo Soteras, AFP | Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, 83, is surrounded by journalists as he arrives in Kinshasa, on July 27, 2016.

Veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday after a two-year convalescence in Belgium, landing at Kinshasa airport to a rapturous welcome by thousands of supporters.

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Large groups of supporters sporting Tshisekedi T-shirts and waving his flag headed for the airport from districts across the city of 11 million, as opposition members accused the government of deliberately delaying his landing.

FRANCE 24's correspondent, Thomas Nicolon, said up to 100,000 people had gathered around N'Djili international airport, where security forces struggled to contain the crowd.

Tshisekedi's return comes amid growing tension in the mineral-rich but unstable county over fears that President Joseph Kabila will postpone elections due to be held late this year in a bid to extend his rule.

Kabila, who has been in power since his father’s assassination in 2001, is widely believed to want a third term in office despite a constitutional limit of two terms.

Protests erupted after the Constitutional Court ruled in May that Kabila could remain in office in a caretaker capacity beyond December.

Thisekedi, 83, came second to Kabila in the 2011 presidential election, which observers said was tainted by widespread fraud.

The veteran politician, who emerged as a leading opposition voice in the 1980s, when he criticised former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, remains a hugely popular figure in Kinshasa and parts of the country.

His return to the DRC had been repeatedly postponed since he travelled to Belgium in August 2014 to receive medical treatment.

Last month, Tshisekedi convened a meeting of opposition leaders in Belgium to thrash out a common position against Kabila, in a rare show of unity by the country's fractured opposition.

The opposition parties agreed to forge an alliance named "Rassemblement" (Rally), aimed at ensuring that Kabila quits.

Tshisekedi's own party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), has expressed willingness to negotiate with the government to find a way out of the country’s political crisis – provided the constitution is respected.

No date has yet been set for a new election, and late last year Kabila said he hoped to organise a "national dialogue" aimed at reaching a wide consensus ahead of any poll.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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