Zaire’s prime minister fired; Rebel halts advance

KINSHASA, Zaire (AP) — President Mobutu Sese Seko had soldiers pull the prime minister off the streets Wednesday as his reign appeared to crumble even further. And a rebel leader called a three-day halt in his army’s advance to give the president a chance to abdicate.
The White House, meanwhile, urged Mobutu to make way for a democratic government, calling his three-decade dictatorship “a creature of history.”
Early Thursday, rebel leader Laurent Kabila said he will halt his army’s advance so Mobutu can respond to an offer to leave power and withdraw to his home village.
Rebel forces had all but seized control of Lubumbashi, the country’s second largest city, Kabila told a news conference. But he said his troops were meeting “stiff resistance” from presidential guards units in the outskirts of the city and that the airport was not yet secured.
“The sum total is that the city has fallen,” Kabila said in Goma, a major city in eastern Zaire.
The Zairian president, who had declared a nationwide state of emergency on Tuesday in response to rebel advances, named an army general as the new prime minister. Gen. Likulia Bolongo had previously served Mobutu as defense minister and army chief of staff.
Likulia promised a crackdown on civil liberties, saying his primary goal was “the restoration of public order.”
The four-star general, dressed in his army uniform and surrounded by four other officers, did not elaborate on the crackdown at a news conference, but said measures would be taken against the news media if they published articles that “affected the morale of the military.”
Several foreign journalists, including an Associated Press photographer and APTV cameraman, were beaten and had their cameras stolen by soldiers during an anti-government demonstration Wednesday.
The fall of Lubumbashi, the country’s second largest city, is a key step in the rebel advance. They have taken control of the eastern third of Zaire in their seven-month campaign.
In his news conference, Kabila said he would now pause for three days to wait for a response from Mobutu on a proposal that he leave office and withdraw.
“If in three days we will not get good news from Kinshasa on the availability of Mr. Mobutu’s willingness to depart to the north, then we will be forced to continue the military advance on all the regions in which the authority remains,” he said.
Asked to elaborate, Kabila said, “Yes, a pause. I am not saying more. I hope something major will happen within three days’ time. … We want him to contact us to negotiate his departure.”
Direct contact? “Yes, he can call me on the telephone.”
Kabila, wearing a white shirt with a black pinstripe and black pants, met with journalists in a palace that once belonged to Mobutu.
He welcomed Wednesday’s White House statement urging Mobutu to make way for a transitional government.
“I think they are right by saying it now,” he said. “Everybody knows that this is the time for Mr. Mobutu to get out of power.”
On Wednesday, the United States increased pressure on Mobutu to leave office, with White House spokesman Mike McCurry saying that U.S. officials want to see a transitional government, then elections.
“That clearly reflects our view that Mobutuism is about to become a creature of history,” McCurry said.
Last week, political parties allied against Mobutu named Etienne Tshisekedi as their choice for prime minister. Mobutu accepted his nomination in what was seen as a ploy to weaken the opposition by splitting it between Tshisekedi’s supporters and those ready to join Kabila.
Tshisekedi is revered in Zaire for the suffering he endured during his decades of opposition to Mobutu. Since his appointment, he had moved to undermine Mobutu by ordering parliament dissolved, annulling the constitution and offering Cabinet posts to the rebels.
The opposition lawmakers who had nominated him said he had gone too far, and they joined Mobutu supporters in calling for his ouster. On Wednesday, Tshisekedi tried to lead thousands of supporters to the prime minister’s office to assume control.