Africa

Etienne Tshisekedi funeral takes place in DR Congo

Pallbearers carry the casket with the remains of Etienne Tshisekedi, former Congolese opposition figurehead who died in Belgium two years ago, at a mourning ceremony at the Martyrs of Pentecost Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 31, 2019. Image copyright Reuters

Two years after his death in Belgium, a state funeral has been held for veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

His body was only flown home on Thursday following a row between his family and the former government.

The deadlock ended when his son, Félix, became president last year.

Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral mass in a stadium in the capital, led by Archbishop of Kinshasa Fridolin Ambongo.

The country's influential Catholic church had urged its members to turn out at the 80,000-capacity Martyrs' Stadium.

On Friday, the presidents of Rwanda and Angola, were among huge crowds to pay their respects in the same stadium in the capital, Kinshasa.

Analysts say the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame was significant, following years of conflict and enmity between his country and DR Congo.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame pays his respects Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Could the presence of Rwanda's President Paul Kagame signal a new start in relations with DR Congo?
The casket with the remains of Etienne Tshisekedi, former Congolese opposition figurehead who died in Belgium two years ago, is seen on a podium during a mourning ceremony at the Martyrs of Pentecost Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 31, 2019. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption For his supporters, the funeral in Kinshasa represents a victory over the former government

The casket containing Etienne Tshisekedi's body remained in the stadium overnight.

After the funeral ceremony, Etienne Tshisekedi is to be buried at his private N'sele residence, some 40km (25 miles) east of central Kinshasa.

He died aged 84 in Brussels and his body was kept in a funeral parlour until it could be returned home.

Supporters of former DR Congo Prime Minister and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi sing and dance ahead of his mourning ceremony. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Supporters of the veteran opposition leader turned out in their thousands
Tshisekedi supporters Image copyright AFP
Image caption Only those with official invitations were allowed into the stadium
Flower arrangements are displayed for sale during the mourning ceremony of late former DR Congo Prime Minister and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi in Kinshasa, on May 31, 2019. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Flowers were on sale outside
Government forces escort a hearse carrying the coffin of former DR Congo Prime Minister and opposition leader Etienne Tshiseked Image copyright AFP
Image caption The former opposition leader is being given a state funeral

On Friday afternoon, the Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa erupted in cheers as the casket containing Tshisekedi's remains entered, reports the BBC's Gaius Kowene.

His supporters screamed and blew whistles in the 80,000-capacity arena.

A banner dedicated to Etienne Tshisekedi, former Congolese opposition figurehead who died in Belgium two years ago, is seen hanging above supporters during a mourning ceremony at the Martyrs of Pentecost Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 31, 2019 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Etienne Tshisekedi had a troubled relationship with former leader Mobutu Sese Seko

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.

A life of opposition

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

He served as interior minister under the country's authoritarian leader Mobutu Sese Seko, before joining the political opposition.

After serving time in prison, he founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) in 1982 and was appointed 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.

Democratic Republic of Congo's Felix Tshisekedi swears into office during an inauguration ceremony as the new president Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Tshisekedi's son Félix won a bitterly contested election last year

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.

However, several observer groups believe that another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, was the rightful winner.

Since coming to power, President Tshisekedi has agreed to work with the party of former President Joseph Kabila.

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