Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stay-Home Protest in Zaire: A Calm before Rebel Storm as Rebels Approach, Capital's Quiet Streets Belie the Tension

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stay-Home Protest in Zaire: A Calm before Rebel Storm as Rebels Approach, Capital's Quiet Streets Belie the Tension

Article excerpt

After six months of carrying on as though the rebellion in the east didn't exist, Kinshasa is preparing for another tense day of ville morte (dead town) protests today as the legal opposition continues to turn the screws on the besieged president, Mobutu Sese Seko.

Businesses were closed yesterday, and most people kept close to home for fear of reprisals from anti-Mobutu youths, who last week clashed with the Army in the capital. Yesterday, however, there were no rampaging gangs on the streets. If it weren't for the patrolling troops and the tension, the quiet streets would have seemed like a Sunday afternoon in an American suburb.

The normally bustling street market on the Avenue 24 Novembre was all but empty: Only the bread sellers turned up for work. Back streets in the city center were deserted, and traffic was light on the Boulevard du 30 Juin. The busiest people on the streets were the Western journalists. Troops patrolled in trucks throughout the day, moving quickly to disperse any gatherings. When several journalists arrived at the house of Etienne Tshisekedi, the opposition leader who was fired as prime minister last week, a group of about 40 youths swarmed out to meet us, setting fire to car tires and protesting delightedly for the cameras. Then the Army appeared, rolling down the road in a truck and firing into the air. The students fled, and the journalists found themselves briefly under arrest before the Army left again, but not before helping themselves to the car. A Belgian TV journalist who tried to drive away was fired on, dragged from his car, and arrested. He was later freed unharmed. Last week, journalists covering pro-Tshisekedi street protests in Kinshasa were attacked and beaten by soldiers, who robbed them of their documents, equipment, and even their shoes. The ville morte is an increasingly popular form of African protest in which political activists promise to make life difficult for anybody attempting to go about their everyday affairs. …

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