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Etienne Tshisekedi’s body returned to DR Congo from Belgium

The body of the father of Democratic Republic of Congo’s president has arrived in his home country, two years after he died in Belgium aged 84.

Etienne Tshisekedi was in opposition for decades but failed in several attempts to become president
Etienne Tshisekedi was in opposition for decades but failed in several attempts to become president

Veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi died in Brussels in February 2017.

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

Thousands of supporters and wellwishers gathered to pay their respects.

Some carried printed pictures with the slogan “Le peuple d’abord,” French for “people first”, reports the BBC’s Gaius Kowene in Kinshasa.

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

A 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.

Last-minute delays also hampered the body’s journey from Brussels to Kinshasa, DR Congo’s capital.

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 Félix Tshisekedi.

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

The schedule of mourning includes a religious service, a public display of the closed casket and a rally on Friday at an 80,000-seat 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.

A 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.

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

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

He boycotted the DRC’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. BBC News