Players shift ground in Zaire endgame

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The Independent Online
Libreville, Gabon (AP) - Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko remained in Gabon yesterday, fuelling speculation that he will choose exile rather than fly home as promised.

The ailing dictator, dying of cancer and losing a seven-month civil war, has agreed to long-delayed elections and has acknowledged he is too ill to be a candidate.

Despite assurances by his aides that Mr Mobutu would return to Kinshasa yesterday, diplomatic sources said he would remain in neighbouring Gabon for another night.

South Africa's Deputy President Thabo Mbeki was expected in Libreville last night for talks with the President. Mr Mbeki earlier in the day met rebel leader Laurent Kabila in the rebel-held southern city of Lubumbashi. Mr Mbeki said Mr Kabila had agreed to meet President Mobutu next Wednesday on board a South African naval vessel for a second round of peace talks.

On Thursday, Mr Mobutu met five other African leaders in Gabon and emerged with a document in which he called on his military to prepare the country for elections.

The pledge, signed by all six leaders, said Mr Mobutu, who is suffering from prostate cancer, was too ill to stand for the vote himself. The statement made no mention of Mr Mobutu resigning or giving power to a transitional authority that would include Mr Kabila, as the rebel chief has demanded.

Since promising a transition to democracy in 1990, Mr Mobutu has repeatedly postponed the country's first multiparty elections. But with mounting international pressure and the rebels closing in on the capital, he has in recent weeks repeated his promise.

In Kinshasa, pressure was increasing on Mr Mobutu to cede power. For the first time, political parties within the parliament announced their support for Mr Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for Liberation of Congo-Zaire.

A communique released in the capital said peaceful demands for democratic change had failed to produce results, or bring elections, and expressed support for armed struggle to put the country on the path toward free and fair elections.

"We proclaim our support for the Alliance's platform and call on the Alliance to use their weapons in a manner that will permit it to achieve the goals of democracy", the communique read. The parties signing the communique, such as the National Federation of Christian Democrats and the Zairian Association of former National Police Officers and Agents, do not have much power in the transitional parliament. But it is the first time political parties have publicly supported Mr Kabila's use of arms.

Rebel foreign minister Bizima Karaha said in Lubumbashi yesterday that Mr Kabila was only going to meet President Mobutu to secure his resignation. He said the rebels would continue their military offensive on the capital until the 66-year-old dictator hands over power over to Mr Kabila.

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