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Opposition leader's body returns home to Congo for funeral


AP Kinshasa
The body of late opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi arrived home in Congo on Thuresday more than 2 years after his death.
Tshisekedi's son Felix, who is now president of Congo, was at the airport Thursday evening to meet the plane coming from Brussels.
Etienne Tshisekedi died at a hospital in Belgium in February 2017 of a pulmonary embolism. Family members said they were blocked by then-President Joseph Kabila from bringing his body home for burial.
The regime feared that any outpouring of support for the late opposition figure would lead to more demonstrations against the president.
Etienne Tshisekedi spoke out against Kabila until the very end. Felix Tshisekedi won the January presidential vote, ushering in change and plans for a funeral for his father.
Supporters say Tshisekedi was so potent a threat to former president Joseph Kabila that his corpse had to remain in Belgium, where he died at age 84.
The surprise declaration of Tshisekedi's son Felix as Congo's presidential election winner in January opened the way for the body's return. Bringing his father home would be one of his first acts in office, he declared.
A funeral is scheduled for Friday at the 80,000-seat Martyrs Stadium in the capital, Kinshasa. Six heads of state are expected to attend, from the Republic of Congo, Angola, Zambia, Togo, Guinea and Rwanda. Burial is set for Saturday at a family plot on the city's outskirts.
Etienne Tshisekedi, known for his fiery criticism of Kabila and his trademark flat cap, died in February 2017 of a pulmonary embolism at a Brussels hospital, not living long enough to see his political nemesis Kabila leave power. At the time, tensions were at an all-time high over Kabila's political future as critics feared he would not cede power in the mineral-rich nation.
Family members and Tshisekedi's UDPS party were unable to reach an agreement with Kabila's government for the repatriation of his body, as the regime feared a funeral could lead to a resurgence of opposition demonstrations calling for Kabila's ouster. "Even in death Tshisekedi makes Kabila afraid," Jean-Marc Kabund said in 2017 when he was the UDPS party's secretary-general.

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First Published: May 31 2019 | 12:55 AM IST

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