Opposition chief Tshisekedi comes home as crisis looms

An immensely popular figure, Tshisekedi emerged as a leading opposition voice as far back as the 1980s when he became a critic of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Congo's veteran opposition chief Etienne Tshisekedi returned to the country after a two-year convalescence in Belgium 

Congo's veteran opposition chief Etienne Tshisekedi came home after a two-year convalescence Wednesday as the mineral-rich but unstable nation headed into fresh turbulence.

Thousands of supporters sporting Tshisekedi T-shirts and waving his flag had massed at the airport from districts across the city of 11 million awaiting his arrival.

The 83-year-old, who was medevaced to former colonial power Belgium in 2014, landed at 2:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) to a massive welcome.

An immensely popular figure, Tshisekedi emerged as a leading opposition voice as far back as the 1980s when he became a critic of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

In Democratic Republic of Congo's last presidential election in 2011, he ran second to Joseph Kabila but contended he was denied victory by massive fraud.

Tshisekedi "has come to take charge of operations, to enable the change of government that the Congolese people have been waiting for for decades," Bruno Tshibala, secretary-general of Tshisekedi's UPDS party, said as the plane arrived.

In power since his father's assassination in 2001, Kabila is suspected by opponents of eyeing a third term though the constitution allows only two.

- 'National dialogue' -

Talk of the head of state hanging on beyond the expiry of his second term in December has whipped up fresh tension in the country of 71 million people.

Protests erupted after the Constitutional Court ruled in May that Kabila could remain in office in a caretaker capacity beyond December.

His supporters want polls delayed for at least two years, citing logistical and financial difficulties.

The government in the interim has called for a "national dialogue" and former Togo premier Edem Kodjo has been named by the African Union as the talks' "facilitator."

But Kodjo has been rejected by Tshisekedi and most of the country's opposition groups.

Meeting on a call from Tshisekedi last month in Belgium, DR Congo's opposition parties forged an alliance named "Rassemblement" (Rally) aimed at ensuring that Kabila quits.

- 'Get rid of you know who' -

It was the first time that almost all of Congo's fractured opposition had come together against Kabila.

Tshisekedi said at the time that the opposition was willing to take part in the "national dialogue" to ensure a peaceful way out of political crisis.

"More than ever, we must be united to get rid of you know who," he said.

At the same time, the opposition must be mindful of the possible dangers and get the president "to leave quietly... and not expose the people to bullets," he said.

Tshisekedi, who leads the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), said the opposition could consider dialogue with Kabila but on conditions -- respect for the constitution, release of political prisoners and international oversight of any agreement.

The opposition grouping on Sunday reiterated those conditions while rejecting Kodjo's mediation.

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