Mobutu Falls

Zaire's President steps down after 32 years

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KINSHASA, Zaire: Following a Thursday evening meeting in which his top generals said they could no longer protect him or Kinshasa from Laurent Kabila's advancing rebel army, President Mobutu Sese Seko quietly gave up power and fled the capital Friday morning. After 32 years as the head of a kleptocracy that looted the vast natural wealth of a country the size of Western Europe, Mobutu returned to his palatial home at Gbadolite in northern Zaire. He reportedly will fly within the next few days to Morocco. Concluding that the government's ragged army will not be able to hold off Kabila's forces, now reportedly less than 25 miles from Kinshasa, scores of senior military officers and politicians have also left the country. General Nzimbi Ngbale, head of Mobutu's elite presidential guard, fled across the Congo River to Brazzaville, Congo soon after the dictator, largely unnoticed, slipped out of Kinshasa. Although the government says it will continue to defend the capital, the departures suggest that Kinshasa may fall to Kabilwith very little struggle. Diplomats hope that Mobutu's exit will pave the way for a bloodless transfer of power to Kabila. Mobutu had vowed that he would die before being declared the ex-president of Zaire, and to the last refused to cede authority to the rebel leader. Instead, the resignation was vague at best. Government information minister Kin-Kiey Mulumba said that Mobutu was giving up his presidential powers, transferring the symbolic title of head of state to the newly elected parliament speaker, Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo. "He reigns but does not govern," Mulumba said. Under a proposal from Nelson Mandela, Kabila would accept a peaceful transfer of power from Monsengwo or some other transitional figure. Whether the increasingly balky Kabila will accept, or take Kinshasa by force, is still uncertain.