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Zaire's prime minister ousted as war spreads

Zaire's embattled prime minister was ousted from power Tuesday, deepening the political crisis brought on by the fast-spreading civil war.

Leon Lobitsch Kengo wa Dondo was toppled by a vote of Parliament in Zaire's capital, Kinshasa, shortly after he flew here to meet African leaders to discuss the insurrection that has swept eastern Zaire and now threatens to engulf the country.

No replacement for Kengo was named, and a bitter power struggle appeared likely. Initial speculation focused on Etienne Tshisekedi, a former prime minister and opposition leader who is popular with students and is thought willing to negotiate with the rebel alliance led by revolutionary Laurent Kabila.

There was no immediate public reaction in Kinshasa. The capital has been tense all week amid rumors of an impending military coup or rioting by disgruntled soldiers. Flights and ferries from the capital were reportedly packed as nervous residents fled the country.

Zaire's ruler, Mobutu Sese Seko, was hospitalized Sunday in Monaco for complications resulting from prostate cancer. He has spent most of the last seven months in Europe, and his power has steadily evaporated as Zairians have joyously welcomed Kabila and his rebels as liberators from the corruption that has marked his 32-year reign.

Hard-line military officers blamed Kengo for the army's dismal showing, including the humiliating loss Saturday of Kisangani, the country's third-largest city.

Kengo had strong support from the Clinton administration, which backed his largely unsuccessful efforts to enact reforms.