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31.05.2019 Congo

Tshisekedi return sets stage for funeral diplomacy in DR Congo

By Bienvenu-Marie BAKUMANYA, Samir TOUNSI
Etienne Tshisekedi was a revered figure in the opposition.  By THIERRY CHARLIER (AFP/File)
MAY 31, 2019 CONGO
Etienne Tshisekedi was a revered figure in the opposition. By THIERRY CHARLIER (AFP/File)

A ceremony to honour former DR Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi was to take place in Kinshasa on Friday, hosted by his son Felix, the country's president.

The long-delayed tribute to the veteran opposition chief has opened the way for a mood of national reconciliation and improved relations with the Democratic Republic of Congo's neighbours, say analysts.

People began to gather at the 80,000-seater Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa where the coffin was to be displayed after its repatriation late Thursday. His funeral takes place on Saturday.

Etienne Tshisekedi, who died in Brussels in 2017 at the age of 84, revered figure in the opposition for his resistance to former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and ex-president Joseph Kabila.

He never got to see his son ascend to the presidency, after bitterly-fought elections at the end of last year that led to the first peaceful transition of power in the country's history.

His body was flown back to Kinshasa on Thursday aboard a private jet, ending a protracted battle by his family to secure its repatriation.

Tshisekedi held a tripartite meeting on Friday with the heads of two neighbouring countries, presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joao Lourenco of Angola.

The coffin containing the remains of former Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi was flown back to Kinshasa on Thursday.  By Junior KANNAH (AFP) The coffin containing the remains of former Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi was flown back to Kinshasa on Thursday. By Junior KANNAH (AFP)

They were to attend the ceremonies along with the head of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso.

The presence of Kagame, who is also current head of the African Union, is being noted in Kinshasa as a further improvement in ties between the neighbouring nations.

Relations have been frosty since the 1990s, when Rwanda invaded the country to back rebels trying to overthrow Kabila's father, former president Laurent Kabila.

Etienne Tshisekedi served as interior minister under Mobutu before joining the opposition, where he was a persistent thorn in the dictator's side.

He co-founded the opposition UDPS party in 1982 after a stint in prison and in the 1990s was appointed prime minister several times, each time falling out with Mobutu after a matter of months or even days.

Etienne Tshisekedi died in Brussels in 2017 at the age of 84.  By JOHN WESSELS (AFP/File) Etienne Tshisekedi died in Brussels in 2017 at the age of 84. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP/File)

He boycotted the country's elections in 2006 on the grounds of fraud, and was beaten in the 2011 ballot, which was tainted by massive irregularities.

He died in Belgium, the former colonial power, where he had gone to seek medical treatment.

His son had vowed to repatriate his father's remains and bury them in his home country, but that wish was thwarted under Kabila.

The funeral has prompted tributes from fellow opposition figures as well as Kabila supporters.

Martin Fayulu, another opposition figure who says that a behind-the-scenes deal between Felix Tshisekedi and Kabila robbed him of election victory, paid tribute to Etienne Tshisekedi's "fight for justice and democracy."

Praise also came from Kabila's own party, the Joint Front for Congo (FCC).

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