DR Congo: Tshisekedi pledges to free political prisoners

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The new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, says he wants to free all political prisoners within the next 10 days.

In a speech he said he would ask the justice minister to release all those held in jail for their political views.

Mr Tshisekedi assumed office in January, taking over from Joseph Kabila, who had been in power for 18 years.

But the result was disputed and Mr Kabila remains politically powerful.

Mr Tshisekedi made the announcement as he unveiled his “emergency programme for the first 100 days”.

“To cement the democratic advances achieved in our country, I have made reducing tensions a major goal,” he said.

“I will order the justice minister to take all necessary measures within the law towards a conditional release of all individuals detained for opinion offences – notably during the protests held before the elections.”

His speech also raised the possibility of political exiles being allowed to return home to the DR Congo.

Mr Tshisekedi’s victory in presidential polls marked the first orderly transfer of power since DR Congo’s independence in 1960. Previous leaders have been toppled in coups or assassinated.

He ran as an opposition candidate, but another opposition challenger, Martin Fayulu, insisted he had won and his allegations of fraud were supported by some election observers.

Some reports suggested that Mr Kabila and Mr Tshisekedi had struck a deal, although both sides deny this.

Sign of a different kind of president

Analysis by Will Ross, BBC World Service Africa editor

This is a sign that the new Congolese president intends to govern in a very different way from his predecessor.

During Joseph Kabila’s 18-year rule, opposition demonstrations were banned, political opponents were detained and dozens of protestors were shot dead.

It’s widely December election was rigged, letting Mr Tshisekedi win so Mr Kabila could remain politically powerful.

If the political prisoners are freed that would show the new president does at least have some power.