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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebels Give Mobutu 3 Days to Step Down

GOMA, Zaire -- Rebel leader Laurent Kabila gave Zaire's president an ultimatum Thursday -- three days to resign and retreat to his home village -- and announced that rebels have taken the country's second-largest city.

Although fighting continued Thursday on the outskirts of Lubumbashi, Kabila declared a three-day "pause'' in his military advance to await a call from the capital indicating whether President Mobutu Sese Seko would resign.

"In three days, if we will not get good news from Kinshasa of his willingness to depart to the north, then we will be forced to continue the military advance,'' Kabila told reporters at a news conference at his Goma headquarters.

The rebel leader, who has captured one-third of Zaire since September, said, "The loser is him if he doesn't take our advice.''

The new prime minister, General Likulia Bolongo, went to the presidential palace in Kinshasa on Thursday in full military uniform to meet with Mobutu but made no comments to reporters. Likulia also planned to meet later in the day with U.S. Ambassador Daniel Simpson.

Kinshasa, in western Zaire, is the only major city still under Mobutu's control. And Mobutu's hold on power appeared to crumble further Wednesday, after his decision to oust popular opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi from the post of prime minister sparked riots in the capital. The United States has urged Mobutu, 66 and ill with prostate cancer, to make way for a democratic government. White House spokesman Mike McCurry on Wednesday called Mobutu's three-decade dictatorship "a creature of history.''

Kabila, meeting with journalists early Thursday in the Goma palace that once belonged to Mobutu, welcomed the U.S. statement.

"Everybody knows that this is the time for Mr. Mobutu to get out of power,'' Kabila said.

Mobutu would be allowed to return to his home village, the northern town of Gbadolite, but Kabila has said he would not be permitted a role in politics.

Mobutu named Likulia, a former defense minister and army chief of staff, as prime minister Wednesday. The four-star general immediately promised a crackdown on civil liberties, saying his primary goal was "the restoration of public order.''

Likulia also said measures would be taken against the media for any articles that "affected the morale of the military.''

Several foreign journalists were beaten and had their cameras seized Wednesday by soldiers during an anti-government demonstration in Kinshasa.

Kabila said Mobutu's ouster of Tshisekedi was a desperate act to cling to power after the rebels latest victory -- winning the copper- and cobalt-rich city of Lubumbashi, 1500 kilometers southeast of Kinshasa.

The city fell Wednesday morning, Kabila said, although fierce fighting between rebel troops and an elite group of Zairean forces continued on its outskirts. Rebels were still trying to seize the airport north of the city Thursday, he said.