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After 32 years, Mobutu relinquishes power

May 16, 1997
Web posted at: 1:14 p.m. EDT (1714 GMT)

mobutu

KINSHASA, Zaire (CNN) -- As rebel troops advanced toward Kinshasa, Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko on Friday gave up his powers, fled the capital and apparently headed into exile.

Mobutu flew from Kinshasa early Friday to his home town of Gbadolite for what his spokesman called a "short rest." But hours later, an official government statement said the longtime president would take no further role in governing of Zaire.

"He reigns but does not govern," Information Minister Kin Kiey Mulumba said at a news conference. Mulumba hinted Mobutu would retain his title, saying it is tradition for past presidents to hold onto their titles. In a handwritten statement read on the lawn of the prime minister's office, Mulumba said the government still assumes responsibility for defending the capital, maintaining order and negotiating with the rebel alliance.

But with Mobutu's departure, it was unclear who his immediate successor would be. Rebels, led by rebel leader Laurent Kabila, have captured most of the nation since October. Mobutu had ruled the Central African nation for nearly 32 years, which aside from the reign of monarchs, exceeded that of any current head of state except Cuban President Fidel Castro.

CNN Correspondent   Mike Hanna
icon"Preventing violence in the capital..."
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U.S. wants peaceful solution

"The United States' position is clear," Clinton said. "We want to see a transition to a genuine democracy."

He pledged to "do what we can to support Africa in taking one of the largest and most important nations in Africa and promoting a democratic transition."

Added U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "The most important thing is Zaire has to move forward."

The United States has offered Kabila $10 million in assistance to hold elections soon after his expected takeover in Zaire while assuring him monetary support from European governments as well.

Clinton also praised South African President Nelson Mandela who for weeks has worked with the warring factions to agree to a peaceful solution to the Zaire crisis. "I want the whole world to get behind him," Clinton said.


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Exile whereabouts unknown

troops

Mobutu left the capital Friday as rebels were reported to be as close as 15 miles (24 km) from Kinshasa. He apparently was headed into exile, a former senior Zairian diplomat and Mobutu confidant told CNN. Mobutu has ruled Zaire for almost 32 years.

It was not immediately clear where Mobutu planned to begin life in exile. Diplomatic sources told CNN that Mobutu was first traveling to his presidential palace in his hometown of Gbadolite in northern Zaire for a brief stop.

A confidante of the 66-year-old president said he believed Mobutu would then head to France, but other sources close to the president said he was to fly to Morocco.

Mobutu's departure followed talks with army chiefs who told him government troops could not defend the capital against advancing rebels. The departure also comes a day after Mobutu was given a rebel ultimatum to resign by Monday or face an attack on Kinshasa.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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