Belgium to name first square after Congo independence hero Lumumba

Brussels (AFP) - Belgium is set to name a square in Brussels after late Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, the first public place in the former colonial power to honour him, an official said Tuesday.

Brussels mayor Philippe Close said that the local council would vote next Monday on his proposal for the tribute to Lumumba, who was assassinated in 1961.

The socialist mayor told RTBF radio he was "extremely proud" to end what he called a "taboo" in Belgium after years of efforts by the Congolese community for some kind of memorial to Lumumba.

"On June 30, Brussels, for the first time, while have a Patrice Lumumba Square, that will happen at the local council and we are extremely proud to acknowledge that," he said.

A square in the Matonge area, the heart of Brussels's vibrant Congolese community, will be named after Lumuba and a plaque erected there in his honour, Close said.

"This is an area everyone knows, which has a very deep symbolism for our community. It's a great victory," Lydia Mutyebele, a local socialist councillor who led the project, told AFP.

Mutyebele, now 39, was born in the Congo but came to Belgium at the age of six. She said Lumumba was an "emblematic figure" for the whole African continent.

Lumumba embodies for many young people "an attachment to an Africa that know very little about, because they were born here," she said.

The gesture comes on the 60th anniversary of the 1958 Brussels Expo, which included a "Congolese village" -- effectively a human zoo -- that was meant to show Belgium's colonial power.

Lumumba became the first democratically-elected prime minister of the former Belgian Congo after it won independence in 1960

Popular at home, he was considered too pro-Soviet by the Americans and was assassinated on January 17, 1961, at the age of 35, with the alleged complicity of the CIA, Britain's MI6, and Belgian intelligence.

Lumumba was killed after a coup led by Joseph-Desire Mobutu. Mobutu renamed the country Zaire. It is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.