Belgian PM criticises DRCongo independence day splash

1st July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said Thursday the costs of celebrations to mark the Democratic Republic of Congo's 50 years of independence may have been better spent on its needy citizens.

The war-torn African nation on Wednesday put on an impressive military parade attended by several kings and heads of state, and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, to mark its June 30, 1960 independence from colonial ruler Belgium.

Asked about the display, Leterme told journalists that "seeing the means (used), we could have perhaps used the money for the Congolese" whom he said were "suffering".

Leterme acknowledged however that the Congolese authorities had the right to show that they were capable of defending their country.

About 15,000 soldiers, 400 tanks and military vehicles, UN peacekeepers, and representatives of Chinese companies working in the country took part in the parade through the centre of the capital, Kinshasa.

The DR Congo has vast reserves of gold, copper, cobalt and diamonds but is one of the world's poorest nations, scarred by eight years of conflict, from 1996 to 1997 and 1998 to 2003 that cost some three million lives.

Two-thirds of its 60 million inhabitants scrape by on 1.25 dollars (about one euro) a day.

Amnesty International also criticised the independence day show, saying it was "hypocritical for Congo to throw nationwide celebrations without acknowledging the appalling state of human rights in the country".

Leterme joined Belgian King Albert on a tour Thursday of a Kinshasa hospital named after his brother, King Baudouin, who was in 1985 the last Belgian monarch to visit the former colony.

A bust of King Albert II was unveiled at the hospital, where he and his wife, Queen Paola, watched a play promoting its facilities.

The monarchs were due to fly home later Thursday, ending a four-day visit for the 50th independence anniversary.

Then monarch Leopold II annexed the vast African country in 1885 as his own personal property and is credited with its wholesale plundering long before independence in 1960.

© 2010 AFP

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