Belgium has admitted responsibility for the killing of Patrice Lumumba during the Cold War
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 his only remains – a tooth – from Belgium.
“We have to prioritise the health of our citizens,” President Félix Tshisekedi said, adding that cases had risen “exponentially”.
Lumumba was killed by firing squad in January 1961, months after becoming the country’s first prime minister.
In 2002, former colonial power 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.
media caption’My father fought for the independence of our country’
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.
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.
What’s the Covid situation in DR Congo?
It is grappling with a third wave of Covid-19 infections, and Mr Tshisekedi said the country’s hospitals were full.
The president said he would announce “draconian measures” to tackle the rise in the coming days.
Cases and deaths were rising “exponentially”, he said.
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.