Congo’s main opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, one of the country’s most important advocates of democracy, has died in Brussels aged 84, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.
Tshisekedi stood up to Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the country, then known as Zaire, for decades before being overthrown by Rwanda, Uganda and other forces. He was also the most prominent civilian opponent of Laurent Kabila, who took power in 1997, and his son, President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled since 2001.
As such, he was a pivotal figure in Democratic Republic of Congo, a country whose history has been marked by foreign intervention, civil war, coups and authoritarian rule. His stalwart activism meant he could draw huge crowds. Tshisekedi served as a minister under Mobutu before helping found the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party (UDPS), the first organized opposition platform in Zaire, in 1982.
He was named prime minister four times in the 1990s as Mobutu contended with pro-democratic currents in the country, but Tshisekedi never lasted more than a few months as he repeatedly clashed with the charismatic autocrat. He was set to take the top post in a transitional council agreed in December under a deal to pave the way for Kabila to leave power in 2017 and refrain from running for a third term as president
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