The man who couldn't be buried until his son became president

Friday May 31 2019

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The casket containing the remains of former Congolese Prime Minister and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi is unloaded from a plane after its arrival in Kinshasa from Belgium on May 30, 2019. PHOTO | JOHN WESSELS | AFP 

By BBC

After a two-year delay, the body of the father of Democratic Republic of Congo's president is to lie in state in his home country.

Veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi died in Belgium in February 2017, aged 84.

But his body stayed in Brussels because of a row with former President Joseph Kabila. The deadlock ended when his son, Félix, became president last year.

Thousands of well-wishers have been gathering to pay their respects.

Some supporters waited at the airport with placards bearing the slogan "Le peuple d'abord," French for "people first", when his body arrived on Thursday, reports the BBC's Gaius Kowene from the capital, Kinshasa.

Many wore white clothes to symbolise that Tshisekedi was clean from corruption.


TROUBLED JOURNEY

The campaign to bury Tshisekedi's remains in his home country faced obstacles from President Félix Tshisekedi's predecessor, Joseph Kabila.

For his supporters, Tshisekedi coming home represents a victory over the former government, our correspondent says.

ast-minute delays also hampered the body's journey from Brussels to Kinshasa.

Belgian news agency Belga said organisers had initially planned to rent an Airbus A330 with enough space for the coffin and 270 passengers, including veteran members of Tshisekedi's party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).

A government official told AFP news agency this was cancelled due to "issues over the organisation of the flight".

A smaller private jet flew later with the body on board and 10 members of Tshisekedi's family, leaving dozens of others stranded in Belgium. The plane was reportedly lent by President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo.

MOURNING BEGINS

On Thursday evening, the plane touched down in Kinshasa airport and was greeted by a delegation led President Félix Tshisekedi.

His body was taken away on a hearse decorated with national colours, with several thousand onlookers waiting outside the airport.

But the privately owned Actualité news site says a man was killed by a police pick-up truck as the procession drove through Kinshasa's Limete neighbourhood - a stronghold of the veteran leader.
 
The schedule of mourning includes a religious service, a public display of the closed casket and a rally on Friday at the Martyrs' Stadium in the city.

Moss Lenga, spokesperson for the Tshisekedi funeral committee, told the BBC that religious leaders would inspect the body to confirm it was that of Etienne Tshisekedi.

A state funeral will take place on Saturday in the town of Nsele, east of Kinshasa. Six African heads of state are expected to attend, including those of Angola, Rwanda and the neighbouring Republic of Congo.

LIFE OF OPPOSITION

Tshisekedi spent decades in politics but failed in several attempts to become president.

He served as interior minister in the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, before joining the political opposition.

After serving time in prison, he founded the UDPS in 1982 and was appointed several as prime minister by Mobutu, though the two frequently clashed.

Tshisekedi became an opponent of the new regime, and of Joseph Kabila after Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001.

He boycotted DR Congo's elections in 2006, alleging vote fraud, and was beaten in a 2011 race marked by allegations of widespread voting irregularities.

Félix Tshisekedi won a bitterly contested election last year. It marked the first peaceful transition of power since DR Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

In 1997, Mobutu was ousted as leader in a rebellion led by Joseph Kabila's father, Laurent.

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