Kabila came to power in May 1997 following a Uganda- and Rwanda-sponsored rebellion against former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Kabila's hold over the army has grown increasingly tenuous in recent months, with some troops reportedly threatening to revolt over pay demands. Young recruits make as little as $10 a month.
After the shooting, state television broadcast an appeal for calm by presidential aide Eddy Kapend. Local journalists witnessed Kapend being escorted by Angolan soldiers, who in recent months have played a dominant role in Kabila's alliance of Congolese and foreign troops.
The conflicting reports on Kabila's death came hours after witnesses described gunfire around his home. A presidential helicopter later landed at Kinshasa's main hospital, a government official who witnessed the event said, adding there were unconfirmed reports that the aircraft was carrying Joseph Kabila, who had apparently been injured.
The Life of a Rebel
The elder Kabila has been fighting a civil war since August 1998, when rebel forces backed by his 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 now supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Speaking from Brussels, Kin-Kiey Mulumba, a spokesman for one of the main rebel movements, insisted Kabila was dead. The shooting proved that the Congolese people wanted a change, he said, denying that rebels had anything to do with it.
"Something big happened in our country this afternoon. People want change," he said Tuesday.
The world community initially welcomed Kabila, who many hoped would be an improvement over Mobutu's decades-long rule, which left his nation desperately broke and with an infrastructure that barely functioned.
But Kabila quickly alienated himself, inviting close friends and relatives into the government, angering investors and obstructing a U.N. investigation of reports that his rebel army had slaughtered thousands of Hutu refugees.