President Laurent Kabila has died following reports that he had been shot during an apparent coup attempt, U.S. and European officials said today.
Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koen Vervaeke said in Brussels that "two sources, of whom we are 100 percent certain" said Kabila had been killed during the intense 30-minute shooting at his palatial residence in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a former Belgian colony that was also formerly known as Zaire.
"He has probably been shot by one of his guards," Vervaeke said.
He said the sources told the Belgian government Kabila died after being hit by two bullets. "The circumstances are too confused to know more," Vervaeke told Reuters.
The Belgian officials gave no further information, and the report could not be confirmed in Kinshasa. French Foreign Ministry officials also said that Kabila was dead, but gave no further details.
A senior U.S. administration official also confirmed the report. The official told ABCNEWS: "The violence is regrettable and this is not the way change should be obtained. It remains important to us to continue the peace process."
Congo's Interior Minister Gaetan Kakudji refused to comment on the situation. "The Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs can say what he wants but I will make my announcement tomorrow," Kakjudi said.
Kabila's government would not elaborate publicly on its president's condition, or even whether he'd been shot.
"President Kabila is alive and everything is OK," said Congolese Gen. Francois Olenga.
The conflicting reports came hours after witnesses described gunfire around the home of Kabila, who has been fighting multiple rebel armies for more than two years. It was unclear who was responsible for the shooting.
A presidential helicopter landed at Kinshasa's main hospital, a government official who witnessed the event said, adding there were unconfirmed reports that the aircraft was carrying Kabila's son, Joseph Kabila, who had apparently been injured. The younger Kabila is the head of Congo's military.
A member of Kabila's security entourage said on condition of anonymity the bodyguard had shot the president in the back and right leg. Kabila was alive and was being treated by doctors, he said without elaborating.
Intelligence officers in Rwanda said they had unconfirmed reports that Kabila was killed in the intense shooting today at the presidential palace, which lasted a half-hour. Rwanda supports rebels fighting to topple the Congolese strongman.
Speaking from Brussels, Kin-Kiey Mulumba, a spokesman for one of the main rebel movements, insisted Kabila was dead.
"It was a palace coup. Soldiers from Kabila's escort fired at him. He took bullets directly. Immediately, the doctors took him to the main hospital, but he died."
Mulumba said the shooting proved that the Congolese people wanted change, but denied that rebels had anything to do with it.
"Something big happened in our country this afternoon. People want change," he said.
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Presidential aide Eddy Kapend went on national television shortly after the gunfire ended to appeal for calm, but he made no mention of the incident.
The bleary-eyed Kapend ordered that all airports and borders be closed, appealing to the armed forces and civil society leaders to help maintain order.
"The Congolese people need your serenity and your discipline," he said.