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Kabila toppled congo dictator { January 16 2001 }

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Kabila toppled longtime dictator to take power

Kabila addressing his supporters

January 16, 2001
Web posted at: 5:13 p.m. EST (2213 GMT)

KINSHASA, Congo (CNN) -- Laurent Kabila, the self-anointed president of the Democratic Republic of Congo since he seized power in a May 1997 coup, died after gunmen attacked his hilltop residence near downtown Kinshasa on Tuesday, according to the Congolese government.

Kabila had been fighting a civil war since August 1998, when rebel forces backed by Kabila's former allies, Rwanda and Uganda, turned against him. In the war's early stages, the rebels reached the outskirts of Kinshasa before being turned back by Kabila's army, which is supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

In seizing power from Mobutu Sese Seko, Kabila realized a goal he had held since the early 1960s as the head of a Marxist rebel movement that operated from the bush and hills in the eastern part of the nation and in neighboring Tanzania.

Rallied forces to seize power in 1997
On May 7, 1997, Kabila toppled the 32-year dictatorship of Mobutu after a seven-month offensive by his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo.

Supported by a nation outraged by the dictatorial leadership of Mobutu, Kabila rallied forces consisting mostly of Tutsis from eastern Zaire and marched west toward the capital city of Kinshasa, forcing Mobutu to flee the country before their arrival.

On May 17, 1997, Kabila installed himself as head of state. He also rejected the name Zaire, which Mobutu had given the country in 1971, and reverted back to its previous name: Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Kabila, a big man who favored wearing Stetson hats, inherited an economy that by 1994 had shrunk to 1958 levels, although the population had tripled.

The world community initially welcomed Kabila, who many hoped would be a vast improvement over Mobutu's decades-long rule, which left his nation desperately broke and with an infrastructure that barely functioned.

But Kabila quickly alienated many, inviting close friends and relatives into the government, angering investors and obstructing a United Nations investigation of reports that his rebel army had slaughtered thousands of Hutu refugees.

Kabila's government signed a peace agreement last year with the rebel movements, though fighting continued with each side consistently accusing the other of violations.

Educated in France, Tanzania
Kabila was born around 1939 into the Luba tribe in the then-Belgian Congo's southern province of Katanga. He studied political philosophy at a French university and attended the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he met and formed a friendship with Ugandan Yoweri Museveni.

In 1960 Kabila became a youth leader in a political party allied to Congo's first post-independence prime minister, Marxist-Maoist Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba was deposed in 1960 by Mobutu and assassinated soon afterward.

Kabila then founded the People's Revolutionary Party -- Marxist and Pan-Africanist -- and set up headquarters on the western shore of Zaire's Lake Tanganyika in 1964. The movement managed to sustain itself through gold mining and ivory trading.

Assisted by rebel leader Che Guevara
Assisted for a time in 1964 by guerrilla leader Che Guevara, Kabila helped Lumumba supporters lead a revolt that was eventually suppressed in 1965 by the Congolese army led by Mobutu.

Later, however, Guevara grew disillusioned with Kabila, and in an unpublished memoir of his African travels, wrote: "Nothing leads me to believe that Kabila is the man of the hour. He is too addicted to drink and women."

When Kabila's enterprise in eastern Zaire came to an end during the 1980s, he ran a business selling gold in Dar es Salaam until he resurfaced in Zaire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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