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In Congo, some party on eve of opposition taking presidency

January 23, 2019
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Supporters of Congolese President elect Felix Tshisekedi sell souvenirs outside his party headquarters in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Wednesday Jan. 23, 2019. Tshisekedi is to be inaugurated Thursday Jan. 24, 2019, having won an election that raised numerous concerns about voting irregularities amongst observers as the country chose a successor to longtime President Joseph Kabila. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
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Supporters of Congolese President elect Felix Tshisekedi sell souvenirs outside his party headquarters in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Wednesday Jan. 23, 2019. Tshisekedi is to be inaugurated Thursday Jan. 24, 2019, having won an election that raised numerous concerns about voting irregularities amongst observers as the country chose a successor to longtime President Joseph Kabila. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Memorial caps, vibrant T-shirts, plenty of food. The surprise win by Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has breathed new life into one neighborhood of the capital, Kinshasa, as supporters celebrate ahead of his Thursday inauguration.

Few expected an opposition victory in Congo, where President Joseph Kabila has ruled since 2001 and hung on for more than two years of turbulent election delays. While some protested what declared runner-up Martin Fayulu has called a rigged vote, others are embracing peace as long as Kabila is on the way out.

Hundreds gathered on Wednesday outside the headquarters of the president-elect’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress party. Tshisekedi’s inauguration marks Congo’s first peaceful, democratic transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Vendors celebrated the newfound optimism.

Some sold clothes emblazoned with images of Tshisekedi and his father, venerated opposition leader Etienne, who died in 2017 after pursuing the presidency for decades. Others busily dished up food.

“At home I earn 20,000 to 25,000 francs a day in profit, but here every day I earn 100,000 francs. I want to tell the new president to let us make a living here,” said Denise Mbombo, who set up a makeshift restaurant.

A few meters away, Samuel Kanyinda sold the flat caps made popular by Etienne Tshisekedi. “Each day I sell more than 3,000 francs. It makes me feel good,” Kanyinda said.

Congo’s boisterous orchestras arrive every evening to party with supporters.

Jimmy Tshimpaka said he had not returned home for five days, too eager to see his leader’s swearing-in.

“I do not see the point of going to sleep at home,” he said. “I must be here to show my joy.”

The gathering caused major traffic jams on Kinshasa’s main Lumumba Boulevard, to the grumbles of some neighbors.

For the supporters, most of them under 30, hopes are high that Tshisekedi’s installation as president will bring about badly needed change.

“We have fought for a long time alongside Etienne Tshisekedi,” said Jacques Mulumba. “Today his son becomes president. We want him first to take care of all the social issues for Congolese, to create jobs, as so many young people do not have work.”

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