Opposition leader flies to Portugal for medical reasons

KINSHASA - Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba left the South African compound in Kinshasa early yesterday for Portugal, where he will receive medical attention.

KINSHASA - Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba left the South African compound in Kinshasa early yesterday for Portugal, where he will receive medical attention.

Spokesman for the South African Department of Foreign Affairs, Ronnie Mamoepa, said: "This follows high-level discussions in which the DRC government agreed to allow Bemba to leave for Portugal for medical reasons."

Bemba, accompanied by his wife and children, left the DRC at 3am South African time, Mamoepa said.

He had been in the South African compound for three weeks.

Bemba, pictured, sought refuge there after violent clashes between his supporters and government troops last month.

The fighting broke out after Bemba, a former rebel chief and presidential candidate, refused a government order for his guards to be integrated into the regular army.

French news agency AFP reported that Bemba had left on a Boeing 727 bound for Lisbon with his wife and five children.

UN peacekeepers transported Bemba and his family from the South African embassy to the airport.

Negotiations for Bemba to leave the country have been under way for a couple of weeks.

The official reason for his departure has been to seek medical treatment for a leg injury sustained when he fell down stairs in December, AFP reported.

Bemba, a former vice-president, lost the presidential election to incumbent Joseph Kabila in December, in one of the series of elections that were the first in the war-shattered DRC for more than four decades and the first since independence in 1960 to be considered free and fair.

German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that the DRC's senate, of which Bemba is a member, gave him permission on Monday to go to Portugal for a period of up to 60 days.

Portugal said he was not being granted asylum and he had agreed not to be politically active while there. - Sapa

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