Rebels from an outlawed political-religious group attacked Kinshasa's central prison on Wednesday, breaking out their leader and about 50 other prisoners, the Congolese government said.
The authorities say only around 50 prisoners got away when armed men attacked the prison on Wednesday.
The authorities accuse supporters of Mr Nsemi's supporters of being behind the attack, although the group has denied this.
"Several unsafe prisoners and perpetrators of vicious crimes have escaped".
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The date chosen for the assault is highly symbolic - a public holiday marking 20 years since the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for more than three decades.
Bundu dia Kongo movement leader Ne Mwanda Nsemi is now on the run after a 4 a.m. attack on Malaka prison in Kinshasa, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba told local radio station Top Congo FM.
According to a local resident, the attack began just before dawn when there were "prolonged exchanges of fire".
Mobutu was ousted by rebel chief Laurent-Desire Kabila, father of the embattled current president Joseph Kabila.
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Nsemi has a strong following in southwestern DRC and wants to revive the Kongo kingdom, which flourished for centuries around the mouth of the Congo River.
In January 2016, every prisoner except one escaped from a jail in eastern DR Congo. A former prisoner who spoke to guards and other prisoners also told Reuters that about half the prisoners had escaped.
By around 8:30 am, a column of thick black smoke could be seen rising over Makala prison, with dozens of police and soldiers blocking off all access to the facility. A city official told AFP that the women's section was empty, without mentioning how many inmates were detained there.
He added that some escapees have been arrested and returned to the prison, without giving further details.
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BDK seeks to restore a pre-colonial kingdom in the western part of the country, as well as parts of Angola and Gabon. The opposition questions whether Kabila will yield power. Kabila should have stepped down in December under a constitutionally mandated two-term limit.
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