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Cardinal Frederic Etsou, 76; Congolese cleric

January 08, 2007|From the Associated Press

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — Cardinal Frederic Etsou-Nzabi-Bamungwabi, Congo's top Roman Catholic prelate who warned of what he called international meddling in the country's recent landmark elections, has died, church officials said Sunday. He was 76.

Etsou, the leader of one of the Democratic Republic of Congo's most influential institutions, died Saturday at University Hospital in Leuven, east of Brussels, according to the Scheut Fathers, a Brussels-based missionary order.

He had been staying with the order in the Belgian capital when he was taken to the hospital two weeks ago with pneumonia.

In the Congolese capital, newly elected President Joseph Kabila declared that a national day of mourning would be held for Etsou on the day of his burial, which has not yet been set.

"His time as head of the archdiocese of Kinshasa must serve as an inspiration for the church and for all Christianity," Kabila said in a statement.

Born in 1930 in what was then Belgian Congo, Etsou was educated by Catholic missionaries and entered the priesthood in 1958. He studied sociology and theology in France and Belgium before returning to Congo. He became Archbishop of Kinshasa in 1990 and cardinal in 1991.

Etsou raised concerns last year about Congo's first democratic elections in almost 50 years, which supporters hoped would end decades of political violence and dictatorship.

In a radio interview, Etsou appeared to endorse opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba's claims that international forces were seeking to ensure Kabila's victory.

"I ask the international community to abstain from all attempts to impose on the people of Congo he whom they have not chosen as their president," Etsou told Radio France Internationale.

Etsou also accused the Electoral Commission of publishing false results. But the biggest national observer mission, set up by the Catholic Church, found no evidence that the count was rigged.

The church is a powerful institution in the vast central African country, which has been afflicted by decades of dictatorship, civil wars and invasions since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960.

About half of Congo's 63 million people are Catholic, and Catholic schools and clinics have often stepped in where the state has faltered.

Etsou took charge of Congo's Catholic Church in the final years of the rule of longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and many said then that he was chosen with Mobutu's support.

After Mobutu was overthrown in 1997, Etsou spoke out against what he described as the strong-arm tactics of the new leader, Laurent Kabila, the father of the current president. Joseph Kabila took power in 2001, after his father was assassinated.

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