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DRC Frees Musicians Arrested at Pro-Democracy Event

FILE - Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is due to step down after elections next year, but critics think he may seek to extend his time in office.

Seven Congolese musicians detained during a raid on a pro-democracy meeting were released Thursday, a day after four foreign activists accused of fomenting unrest were expelled, the Kinshasa government said.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo's security forces arrested about 40 people — including musicians, journalists and a U.S. diplomat — last weekend at a news conference organized by a local youth group in the capital.

The arrests highlighted political tensions in Congo, where President Joseph Kabila is due to stand down at elections next year, although critics believe he may look to extend his time in power. They also strained ties with the U.S. government.

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa has acknowledged partly sponsoring the news conference.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the musicians, who had been scheduled to perform in an outdoor concert following the event, were released Thursday morning. He said he didn't know how many others arrested on Sunday remained in custody. He said on Wednesday that detainees would be charged or released "very soon.''

Sylvain Lumu, a lawyer representing Filimbi, the Congolese youth movement that organized the event, said that at least seven people remained in detention. Another activist was detained Thursday, he said, without giving details.

The U.S. diplomat was released Sunday after a brief detention, but Kinshasa accused Washington of meddling.

Mende said Wednesday that the U.S. government had no right to organize political events in Congo. Washington has previously said the activists at the event were nonpartisan.

The three Senegalese and one Burkinabe activist who were accused of teaching armed insurrection to Congolese youth left Congo on Wednesday evening after being expelled.

The African pro-democracy activists who were arrested favor presidential term limits and have been involved in organizing protests against state leaders trying to extend their time in power in their home countries.

The political climate in Congo has been tense since at least 40 people were killed in January during violent demonstrations against a revision of Congo's electoral law that opponents said was meant to delay the presidential vote scheduled for next year.

Kabila, president since 2001, is constitutionally barred from standing for a third, elected term next year. Mende has said Kabila will respect the constitution, but the president himself has not commented on the issue.