Longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has died in Brussels, after traveling there last week for a medical check-up. In Kinshasha, police used tear gas on his supporters who had gathered to mourn their hero.

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Congolese citizens march after the death of main opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi

Tshisekedi was a crusading voice for political pluralism and democracy in Congo, whose politics since independence in 1960 from Belgium has been marred by foreign intervention, civil war, coups and authoritarian rule.

Despite serving as prime minister under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in the country then known as Zaire in the 1990s, he also challenged his one-party rule.

As the first organized opposition platform, the UDPS endured harsh repression and Tshisekedi was repeatedly imprisoned.

Mobutu was later overthrown by Rwanda, Uganda and other forces and Tshisekedi went to be the main civilian opponent of Laurent Kabila, who took power in 1997, and his son, President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled since 2001.

Police move in on mourners

About 100 supporters gathered outside the headquarters of Tshisekedi’s party, the Union of Democracy and Social Progress, following his death on Wednesday.

“Our leader is dead. We have no other leader, like Tshitshi, who can fight without the need for guns. How could he die in Belgium?” asked UDPS activist, Yves, using Tshisekedi’s nickname.

Security forces moved in firing tear gas, forcing dozens of protesters to take refuge inside the building.

Eventually those inside were forced to leave after a police officer threatened to open fire at them.

Hospitalized in Belgium

Tshisekedi, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s longtime opposition chief, died in Brussels after flying there on January 24 for medical treatment, the party said.

Radio France International said the 84-year-old died of a pulmonary embolism while in hospital.

He had previously stayed in Belgium for two years for health reasons, but had made a triumphant return home in July, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets to welcome him.

Campaigning till the end

He had recently campaigned against Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his second term in December, which has seen dozens die in anti-government protests.

Kabila is due to stay in power until elections, which were initially due last November, are held by the end of this year.

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.

The deal, brokered allows Kabila to stay in office until late 2017 in tandem with a transitional body and a new premier, yet to be agreed.

Tshisekedi’s son, Felix, is tipped to be named prime minister under the proposals.

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