Congo inaugurates Felix Tshisekedi as new president in first-ever peaceful handover

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Felix Tshisekedi has been sworn in as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the country’s first peaceful handover of power.

Mr Tshisekedi took the oath of office before receiving the national flag and a copy of the constitution from outgoing president Joseph Kabila.

Mr Kabila is stepping aside after 18 years at the helm of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country.

The ceremony was interrupted when the newly-crowned president was taken ill during his inauguration speech.

After a 12-minute interruption, Mr Tshisekedi returned to the microphone, saying: “A famous president of our country said in his time: ‘understand my emotion’.”

He was quoting the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who said those words in 1990 as he was announcing the end of single-party rule.

He added: “The campaign we had to run… got the better of me.”

Thousands of Tshisekedi supporters, many of them dressed in white, celebrated the historic event outside the Palace of the Nation, the seat of the presidency.

Saddam Kongolo, a member of Mr Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) said: “We hope that this will be a real change, especially as he has taken power without bloodshed.”

One of the new president’s first tasks will be to appoint a prime minister in a move which will see him sharing power with Kabila’s supporters, who hold an overwhelming majority in parliament.

The ceremony ends more than two years of turmoil sparked by Mr Kabila’s refusal to step down when he reached the constitutional limit on his term in office.

Mr Tshisekedi took over the UDPS, Congo’s oldest and largest opposition party from his father Etienne following his death almost two years ago.

The ballot on 30 December too place after three postponements and surprised many for being trouble-free.

However, a political storm swiftly brewed over the vote count.

Mr Tshisekedi was declared winner with 38.5% of the vote, over his opposition rival Martin Fayulu, who won 34.8%

Mr Fayulu branded the result a fix but lost a challenge to the Constitutional Court, and foreign support for his position ebbed.

One of Mr Tshisekedi’s biggest challenges will be to root out brutal militias who control parts of the country’s east where an Ebola epidemic is also unfolding.

He will also be expected to meet expectations about easing poverty, which afflicts the vast majority of the country’s 80 million citizens.

Congo boasts a treasure trove of minerals, ranging from gold and diamonds to copper and coltan – a mineral essential for the batteries used in hand-held electronic devices – despite its people being poverty-stricken.

Mr Tshisekedi appealed for tolerance and paid tribute to his father, who pursued the presidency for decades but never achieved the post his son has won.

The reference to Etienne Tshisekedi as “president” was a nod to his father’s defiant declaration after losing the disputed election in 2011 to Mr Kabila.

After he died in Belgium in 2017, Congo’s government did not allow his body to be brought home but his son’s spokesman has said that will be corrected soon.

(c) Sky News 2019: Congo inaugurates Felix Tshisekedi as new president in first-ever peaceful handover

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