Congo orders expulsion of four foreign activists

By Aaron Ross KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday ordered the immediate expulsion of four foreign pro-democracy activists detained at the weekend during a news conference and criticized the United States for supporting the event. The group were among some 40 activists, musicians and journalists arrested in the capital on Sunday during the news conference. A U.S. diplomat was also briefly detained. The incident has stoked tensions in the vast, historically unstable Central African country a year ahead of an election. President Joseph Kabila is legally barred from seeking a third term in 2016 although opponents accuse him of plotting to extend his rule. Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the foreign activists including a Burkinabe and three Senegalese activists were part of a "subversive movement inspired from abroad". Authorities had found military uniforms in their luggage but Congo has dropped a criminal investigation into them, he added. The foreign activists have organized protests in their home countries supporting presidential term limits ahead of elections. The Burkinabe activist was a member of grassroots political group "Balai Citoyen", which played a leading role in toppling longterm President Blaise Compaore last year as he sought to extend his mandate. CRITICISM OF U.S. ROLE At least 40 people were killed in January in violent protests against a revision of Congo's electoral law that opponents said was meant to delay the presidential poll. Kabila has not officially declared his intentions for the election, although the government denies he is deliberately seeking to extend his presidency. The United States has repeatedly urged Kabila to respect term limits and set a date for the election. Mende said a "black hand" had been active in Congolese politics this year and singled out the role of the U.S. embassy, which has acknowledged partially sponsoring Sunday’s news conference. "The U.S. embassy does not have the status to organize political events in Democratic Republic of Congo," Mende said. The embassy declined to give an immediate response to the spokesman's comment, although it has previously said that representatives at the event were respected and non-partisan. One Congolese journalist in Kinshasa was released on Tuesday but the remainder of the local activists remained in custody. Mende said their cases would be "closed very soon". In the eastern city of Goma, about a dozen youth activists were released late Tuesday night after having been detained earlier in the day by intelligence agents while protesting the Kinshasa arrests, some of the released activists told Reuters. (Reporting by Aaron Ross; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Dominic Evans)