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Arrest warrant issued for Congo opposition leader

KINSHASA (Reuters) - An opposition presidential candidate in Congo, in hospital since clashing with police during a protest last week, has been indicted on charges of hiring mercenaries as part of a plot against the state, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition Presidential candidate Moise Katumbi talks to his supporters after leaving the prosecutor's office in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe/File Photo

An arrest warrant had been issued for Moise Katumbi, who has denied the accusations that he says are aimed at derailing his campaign to succeed Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila in elections scheduled for November.

“Moise Katumbi, after having been amply heard by the magistrate in charge of his case, has been indicted on the charge of offences against the internal and external security of the state,” Congo’s assistant prosecutor general, Anselme Maduda Muanda Madiela, said in a statement.

Katumbi, a former governor of Congo’s main copper-mining region, has been in hospital for six days, after police fired tear gas at him and his supporters outside the prosecutor’s office in Lubumbashi where he had been questioned.

His supporters repeatedly clashed with police during three days of hearings last week and his indictment and possible arrest raise the prospect of further violence. Lubumbashi was calm on Thursday afternoon with few yet aware of the news.

Katumbi was not available for comment on Thursday. His lawyers said that they had not yet been officially informed of the charges. It was not clear whether he would be arrested immediately or kept under surveillance while in hospital.

The charges could carry the death penalty although Congo has observed a moratorium on capital punishment for over a decade.

President Kabila has ruled since 2001 and is barred from standing for a third term but the government says it is unlikely to be able to organise November’s polls in time, blaming budgetary and logistical constraints.

The country’s highest court ruled last week that Kabila would stay in power beyond the end of his mandate if the election does not take place.

Opposition parties called that a “constitutional coup d’etat” and called for marches across the country on May 26 to demand that Kabila step down this year.

Additional reporting by Kenny Katombe in Lubumbashi; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Robin Pomeroy