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US Defends Congo Event Where Diplomat Was Arrested

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United States is defending its support of an event in Congo, where an American diplomat, activists and journalists were arrested.

The diplomat has been released, but activists, including some from Senegal and Burkina Faso, and a journalist remain in custody. Sunday's arrests came amid tensions in Congo over next year's presidential elections, which some fear the government will try to postpone.

In a statement posted on its website Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa identified the diplomat as Kevin Sturr, an official with the democracy and rights program for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The embassy said it partially sponsored the meeting over the weekend that brought together youth activists, describing it as "part of our broader commitment to encourage a range of voices to be heard."

The detentions followed a news conference about the meeting, which the embassy said Congolese officials also attended.

"These well-known, well-regarded, non-partisan youth groups as well as the organizers of the weekend's events intended to promote Congolese youth participation in the political process," the statement said.

The activists included members of Burkina Faso's Balai Citoyen and Senegal's Y'en a Marre movements. Both have led large-scale protests in recent years against presidents attempting to extend their time in office.

At a news conference in Dakar, Senegal, on Monday, Cheikh Oumar Toure, a member of Y'en a Marre, called on the Senegalese government to push Congo to release the activists.

In January, mass protests erupted in Congo against proposed changes to the electoral law, widely seen as a ploy to delay next year's elections and allow Kabila to stay on. Human Rights Watch reported that at least 40 people were killed in the unrest.

Kabila has been president since 2001 and under current law is barred from seeking another term.