U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken encouraged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to have “free, fair, and on-time elections” while expressing concern over the detention of a Congolese opposition leader arrested soon as Blinken arrived the country for a brief visit.

“We’ve seen just in the last 24 hours a possible setback to the importance of having the right environment for elections and for the civic space with the detention of an opposition political leader,” said Blinken on Wednesday during an election transparency event in the capital, Kinshasa.

“We’re trying to get more facts, we’ve raised this with our colleagues in the government here, we have full respect for the laws of the DRC,” he said. “But we are concerned about any steps taken that could actually reduce the political space, especially as the country heads into elections,” he said.

On Tuesday, Jean-Marc Kabund, a former close political ally of DRC President Felix Tshisekedi but now an opposition leader, was arrested.

His lawyers said Kabund was accused of contempt of the head of state. Kabund was once seen as a leading figure behind Tshisekedi’s rise to power. The two had a falling out earlier this year and Kabund started his own political party.

Earlier on Wednesday, Blinken met with DRC’s Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde in Kinshasa where the two “discussed the importance of organizing and holding free and fair elections as scheduled in 2023,” according to the State Department.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to provide an additional $10 million to promote peaceful political participation and transparency in DRC’s elections, bringing total U.S. support for the Congolese elections to $23.75 million.

The central African country is scheduled to have its presidential, legislative and provincial assembly elections next year.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters.

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