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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2007, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
DR Congo's Bemba to stay abroad
By John James
BBC News, Kinshasa

Jean-Pierre Bemba. File photo
Mr Bemba has challenged the election result in court
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, politicians close to opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba say he will not be returning from Portugal.

This is despite the end of the 60-day period the 2006 presidential poll loser was given to seek medical treatment.

Mr Bemba left after sheltering for some three weeks in South Africa's embassy in Kinshasa after his bodyguards and the army clashed this March.

The move was widely seen as a way to ease tension in the capital

Security concerns

As a senator, he had to seek permission for the trip from the senate authorities.

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In Kinshasa, where he received two-thirds of the vote in the second round of the presidential election, people I spoke to were keen for him to return.

"If such a person who represents the opposition is out of the country it's going to lead to a kind of dictatorship," one city resident said.

The director of Mr Bemba's cabinet, Fidel Babala, said that the opposition leader did want to return but that at the moment he would not be safe.

"At the time of the fighting on 22 and 23 March his house was destroyed, his cars were destroyed, his media were destroyed.

"If even theoretically he came back today where would he stay? This violence that we saw... is that going to happen again? Can Mr Bemba's security be guaranteed? And by whom?" Mr Babala said.

Should he return, Mr Bemba may well face charges of high treason for the fighting.

He currently has immunity from prosecution because of his position in the senate, but now the time-limit for his trip has expired, his opponents in the senate could take steps to expel him.


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