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Congolese Coup Attempt May Have Been Faked,  Kinshasa Residents Say - 2004-06-12

A day after Congo's government said it put down an attempted coup, the alleged ringleader is still at large.

Kinshasa appears to be back to normal. On Friday, its streets rang with small arms and artillery fire, and renegade officers from Joseph Kabila's presidential guard seized control of state radio and television to declare the country's transitional process was not working.

Residents of the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital returned to work, street hawkers were back on the streets and the traffic is bustling as ever.

President Kabila appeared on television twice on Friday to tell the people he was healthy and fully in control. He said that 12 people that had taken part in the coup attempt were arrested, and he had instructed the army to restore order.

However, with the alleged ringleader, Major Eric Lenge, formerly a close associate of Mr. Kabila, still at large, there are many questions the people of Kinshasa want answered.

They appear not to be convinced that Friday's events added up to an attempted coup. Citing the lack of any real fighting in the city, the ease with which the renegade officer gained access to the radio station and then escaped the clutches of the security forces, they suspect that the coup attempt might have been staged.

Many feel that the alleged coup was an attempt by the president, or hardliners close to him, to justify granting greater powers to the head of state, at a time when the country is due to be preparing for elections in one year's time.

Residents say the president might be afraid of losing in elections, so is delaying the transitional process for as long as possible.

Congo's transitional government is charged with leading the country toward elections in June 2005, after five years of war that claimed at least three million lives, mostly through starvation or disease.

Some progress has been made in bringing former rebel factions to work with the government in Kinshasa, but Friday's uprising was the second in three months, and comes at a time that the government is trying to reestablish its control over the troubled east of the country.