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.
Hundreds of Americans in Congo
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.
Later, an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was announced by Kakudji as having being ordered by Kabila himself.
Kakudji also put all fighting units in Kinshasa on alert until further notice.
In the neighboring Republic of Congo, a senior military official said it was unclear who was in control of the Kinshasa government. The official declined to be named.
Hours after the apparent coup began, truckloads of armed soldiers patrolled the streets of the capital. Kinshasa residents hurried home, and many streets were quickly deserted.
Large numbers of troops in armored vehicles and on foot blocked off roads near Kabila's hilltop residence, not far from downtown Kinshasa. The presidential residence, known as the Marble Palace, is usually heavily guarded by troops and a North Korean-made tank.
Earlier today, a source familiar with the situation told ABCNEWS that based on current information, the 400 Americans living in Congo were not in danger. The capital was described as calm after the shooting, but it could become dangerous if the military unravels, and looting and civil unrest begins.
Americans have been told to stay to home. Of the Americans there, 200 of those are children, and 60 work for the embassy.
A Turbulent History
The Congolese president has 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 now supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Kabila came to power in May 1997 following a Uganda- and Rwanda-sponsored rebellion against dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the nation then called Zaire.
The international 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 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.
Kabila's government signed a peace agreement last year with the rebel movements, though fighting has continued and each side has consistently accused the other of violations.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.