Congolese finally pay tribute to late opposition leader

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Tens of thousands of mourners, some of whom camped outside overnight, gathered on Friday to finally say farewell to Etienne Tshisekedi, the Congolese opposition icon whose son was declared president earlier this year.

The stadium ceremony came more than two years after the elder Tshisekedi died abroad at age 84. His rift with then-president Joseph Kabila was so entrenched that his remains were not allowed to return after his death in Belgium of a pulmonary embolism in 2017.

After Kabila gave way to pressure for a new presidential election in January, Tshisekedi’s son Felix was declared the winner. He vowed that his father’s remains would come home to Congo, where he was the face of the political opposition for decades.

In life, Etienne Tshisekedi was at times put under house arrest, his supporters jailed and beaten. But after the seismic shift in Congo’s political climate, he is being given a farewell befitting a senior statesman, with some African presidents in attendance.

A seven-hour procession to downtown Kinshasa followed the arrival of his casket Thursday night.

Pallbearers wearing ties representing the Congolese flag carried the casket into the stadium on Friday. The flat cap that Tshisekedi always wore was placed atop the casket.

His funeral and burial are set for Saturday.q