KINSHASA, Zaire (CNN) -- Zaire's veteran president, Mobutu
Sese Seko, received a rapturous welcome home on Tuesday after
four months in Europe. The ailing leader, who recently
underwent cancer surgery, wants to prove he is still in
control, despite advances by rebels who have captured the
eastern strip of his central African nation.
Traditional bands played as Mobutu, 66, wearing his trademark
leopard-skin cap, descended smiling and waving from his
chartered jet after a flight from southern France.
For some, a symbol of unity
Up to 20,000 people -- some of them wearing imitation
leopard-skin hats -- packed the international airport outside
the capital Kinshasa to greet Mobutu, whose supporters
describe him as the one symbol of unity amid Zaire's anarchy.
Many thousands more lined the 15 km (10 miles) from the
capital to the airport.
Tight security surrounded the homecoming, with army
sharpshooters on rooftops at the airport and civil guard
troops in trucks along the road from the capital.
Smiling broadly, Mobutu walked down the steps from the
aircraft with his wife, Bobi Ladawa, as cheering, drumming,
music and chanting sounded around the airport.
Mobutu was to address the nation later on Tuesday, and
many Zairians looked to him to conjure up a solution to end
the Tutsi-led revolt.
Mobutu has dominated the life of the nation since seizing
power in 1965. He bowed to international and domestic
pressure for democratic reforms in 1990, but elections have
yet to be held.
Aides say he is feeling better after surgery for cancer in
Switzerland in August. He has been staying at his private
villa at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin near Nice since November 4.
A pro-Mobutu Zairian newspaper, The Soft, has said he planned
to stay in Zaire just two or three weeks before returning to
complete his convalescence.
But officials and presidential aides have declined to specify
how long he will remain in Zaire.
Zaire has rejected talks with rebels who control key eastern
towns two months after launching a well-planned offensive
against Mobutu's 31-year rule.
Reuters contributed to this report.