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Kabila awaited in Kinshasa


Ailing Mobutu prolongs Togo stay

May 20, 1997
Web posted at: 12:33 p.m. EDT (1633 GMT)

Latest developments:

KINSHASA, Congo (CNN) -- By the tens of thousands, residents of this capital city walked to the airport on Tuesday, hoping to catch a first glimpse of self-proclaimed president Laurent Kabila, but they were turned back by rebel troops, witnesses said.

Kabila, who has renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of Congo, was expected to unveil a new government after flying in from the southern city of Lubumbashi.

His arrival on Tuesday, however, was not a certainty. Kabila was not aboard a plane that took more than 100 people to Kinshasa, including some of his top aides.

Report: Mobutu's health worsens

Meanwhile, deposed leader Mobutu Sese Seko, who named his country Zaire after taking power 32 years ago, remained holed up in the West African nation of Togo, ruled by his close friend Gnassingbe Eyadema.

Mobutu fled there on Sunday with about 50 members of his family after rebels captured his jungle palace in the northern town of Gbadolite.

He has been joined in Togo by 85 more relatives who fled via Brazzaville, the capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo on Monday.

Mobutu, who is 66 and has prostate cancer, reportedly intended to stay in Togo for only a short period before continuing on to Morocco and eventually France, but his flight into exile left him "very, very weak," a source close to Togo's government said.

The French government said Tuesday that Mobutu -- who has a home on the French Riviera -- had not requested permission to travel there.

If Mobutu asked to come to France, his "request would be examined," said a French government official, adding that Morocco and South Africa had both offered to take him in.

Security concerns for Kabila?

Crowds in Kinshasa started surging toward the airport on the eastern outskirts of the capital following rumors that Kabila was expected.

Soldiers from the rebel alliance, who captured Kinshasa during the weekend after a seven-month guerrilla advance from the east, blocked the way, possibly out of security concerns.

Security adviser Paul Kabongo said Kabila would come at an "opportune time." However, another senior rebel alliance official, who declined to be named, said Kabila would fly to Kinshasa on Tuesday, though it was not being announced in advance for security reasons.

Currency strengthens


Signs of the new order in the renamed Zaire included television news anchors -- who once dutifully read pro-Mobutu propaganda -- ending newscasts declaring: "Long live the Democratic Republic of Congo."

The national currency -- called the zaire -- soared in value on Monday, trading at 50,000 zaire to the dollar after being as high as 170,000 zaire to the dollar on Friday.

The strengthening prompted merchants who normally accept dollars to demand zaires in case their value increases further.

Zaire's embassies worldwide were moving to recognize Kabila's regime.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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