The return of the remains of Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba has been delayed by a new wave of Covid-19.
Tributes had been planned from 21 June, starting with the return of what are believed to be his only remains – a tooth – from Belgium.
“We have to prioritise the health of our compatriots,” President Félix Tshisekedi said.
He said the country’s hospitals were full and both cases and deaths were rising “exponentially”.
Who was Patrice Lumumba?
He led Congo to independence from Belgium in June 1960 and became the country’s first prime minister. However, he was overthrown and jailed before being killed by firing squad in January 1961. In 2002, Belgium admitted responsibility for its part in the killing, in which the CIA is widely believed to have played a role amid the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.
Western powers feared that Lumumba would side with the Soviet Union, potentially giving it access to Congo’s supplies of uranium.
A Belgian policeman has admitted dissolving Lumumba’s body in acid, but said he had kept a tooth.
Last year, a Belgian court ordered the tooth to be returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo even though no DNA tests had been carried out to confirm it was Lumumba’s. An official said that such a test would have destroyed the tooth.
President Tshisekedi has said a mausoleum will be built to the independence hero and a series of ceremonies are planned around the vast country.
These have now been postponed until January 2022 – the 61st anniversary of Lumumba’s death.
How bad is Covid in DR Congo?
It is grappling with a third wave of Covid-19 infections, and Mr Tshisekedi said he would announce “draconian measures” to tackle it in the coming days.
In the latest figures, 254 new Covid-19 infections were announced on Friday, mostly in the capital, Kinshasa, along with three deaths.
Since the outbreak began, about 35,000 infections and 834 have officially been recorded in DR Congo, which has a population of at least 80 million.
However, experts say many more cases are likely to have gone unrecorded due to the poor state of the country’s health system.
DR Congo is carrying out a vaccination campaign using the AstraZeneca jab but President Tshisekedi said he wanted to speed it up by using different vaccines as well.