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Congo Foils Attempted Coup - 2004-06-11


President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila says an attempt by what officials said was a small band of renegade soldiers to overthrow his government has failed.

President Kabila went on national television, after a chaotic night of fighting in the capital, Kinshasa, to say his government is in control.

Wearing a military uniform, President Kabila went on state television Friday, and declared his government institutions are intact, and a dozen mutineers have been arrested.

He said the suspected leader of the mutineers, Major Eric Lengue, who is a member of the presidential guard, is still being hunted down. Mr. Kabila called on the population to remain calm.

The head of the armed forces, General Sylvain Mbuki, says the attempted coup was not a complete surprise.

General Mbuki says the coup attempt, which he calls "an act of insanity," was impossible to prevent. He says, as soon as Mr. Kabila appeared on television, government operations resumed normal schedule.

General Mbuki spoke from Bukavu, where he oversaw the swearing-in of new provincial administrators.

The president's televised statement followed a chaotic night of gun fire at various locations in the capital, Kinshasa.

Government ministers say a commando group seized state radio at about two in the morning local time, and declared they were suspending government institutions. The group, apparently led by Major Lengue, also seized the national electric company, shutting off power in the capital for several hours.

Heavy automatic weapon fire was heard in the early morning hours in several areas of Kinshasa, including the neighborhood of the official residence of Mr. Kabila, before some of the mutineers were caught and others fled.

President Kabila succeeded his father, Laurent Kabila, who was killed by one of his own bodyguards in January 2001.

Since taking office, the son has been trying to bring peace to the mineral-rich D.R.C, after five years of civil war, which claimed more than 2.5 million lives, mostly through famine and disease.

Last week, renegade military commanders seized the volatile eastern city of Bukavu, but withdrew a few days later. President Kabila says the commanders were being backed by neighboring Rwanda.

Rwanda's government denies involvement, and, in turn, accuses U.N. peacekeepers stationed in Bukavu and Congo's army of allowing persecution of ethnic Banyamulenge Tutsis, who live on both sides of the border.

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