DR Congo: Body of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi returned | News | DW | 30.05.2019
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DR Congo: Body of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi returned

The body of former DRC opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has been returned from Brussels, two years after his death. It was delayed over concerns that the opposition would call to oust then-President Joseph Kabila.

The body of longtime Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) opposition leader and former Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi was returned to his home country from the Belgian capital Brussels on Thursday.

Tshisekedi was the face of the DRC's opposition for decades until his death aged 84 in February 2017 in Brussels.

Thousands of people gathered in the capital of the DRC, Kinshasa, as Tshisekedi's casket, draped in the national flag, arrived.

The return of his body fulfills one of the first promises made by his son Felix, who unexpectedly came to power as president earlier this year.

Tens of thousands of people will pay tribute at a stadium on Friday and presidents from six other African nations are expected to attend a memorial service on Saturday.

Read more: Who is Felix Tshisekedi, DR Congo's new president?

Thousands of people gathe in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa, as Etienne Tshisekedi's casket arrives (Presidence RDC)

Thousands gathered in Kinshasa as Etienne Tshisekedi's casket arrived in the country

Fear of opposition protests

Tshisekedi was a fierce critic of former President Joseph Kabila. He died from a pulmonary embolism in Brussels before he was able to see his political nemesis leave power.

When he died, tensions were at an all-time high as critics feared Kabila would not cede power and elections were continuously delayed.

Family members and Tshisekedi's Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party were unable to reach an agreement with Kabila's government for the repatriation of his body, with the regime fearing a funeral could lead to a resurgence of opposition demonstrations calling for the ousting of Kabila.

Read more: Congo reacts to Tshisekedi’s death

A longtime critic

Tshisekedi was one of UDPS's founders in 1982 when opposition to then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Congo for decades, was increasing.

Two years after the country allowed multiple political parties in 1990, Tshisekedi became prime minister in an unstable partnership with Mobutu.

He went into exile in 2000 after repeated clashes with the government of Joseph Kabila's father, Laurent, who became president after Mobutu's departure and was assassinated in 2001.

At one point, Tshisekedi was banished to internal exile in his home village about 700 kilometers (435 miles) west of the capital but he made a triumphant return in 2003.

He gained international attention when he ran against Kabila for president in 2011. He then declared himself president after the election was tainted by accusations of vote-rigging done by the ruling party.

He was placed under de facto house arrest but later left for Belgium for medical treatment.

Tshisekedi's son wins presidency

Tshisekedi refused to recognize Kabila's legitimacy as president and kept up his criticism until his death.

In late 2016, he accused Kabila of treason for not stepping down at the end of his mandate.

A court ruled that Kabila could remain president until the next election but Tshisekedi called it a "coup d'etat that was carried out with the blessing of the constitutional court."

International pressure eventually led Kabila's government to hold an election, but the victory of Tshiskedi's son Felix has been disputed, with another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, maintaining that he won.

law/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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