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DR Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi dies

Longtime DR Congo opposition chief Etienne Tshisekedi died Wednesday at the age of 84 in Brussels, where he had flown for medical treatment, his political party said.

“President Tshisekedi died today… in Brussels,” Bruno Tshibala, an official from the UDPS party, said of the burly figure who remained largely out of sight in recent years due to frail health.

Tshisekedi, who had only flown from Kinshasa to the capital of former colonial power Belgium on Tuesday, died at 5:42 pm local time (1642 GMT), Tshibala said. 

A source close to him said Tshisekedi died in Brussels’ Sainte-Elizabeth hospital, giving no further details.

After two years of medical treatment in Belgium, Tshisekedi had made a triumphant return in July with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to welcome him home.

The opposition coalition he headed is negotiating the next steps in a power-sharing deal agreed on New Year’s Eve to avoid fresh violence after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his mandate in December.

The deal brokered by the country’s influential Roman Catholic bishops allows Kabila to stay in office until late 2017 in tandem with a transitional body and a new premier, yet to be agreed.

Before his death, Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) said he would return to Congo soon to “take up his historic responsibilities” but there was great concern for “the Old Man”, as he was affectionately known. DM

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