Zaire President Is Criticized For Crackdown on Marchers

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ZAIRE'S President Mobutu Sese Seko faced renewed world pressure for political reform Feb. 18 after troops shot and killed at least 17 protesters at a peaceful march Feb. 16.

The demonstrators were demanding the restoration of a suspended national pro-democracy conference.

United States Ambassador Melissa Wells, Belgian Ambassador Jean Coene, and French Charge d'Affaires Dominique Pin met Mr. Mobutu on his yacht just outside Zaire's capital, Kinshasa, Feb. 17, and demanded he reconvene the suspended conference.

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Zaire's Prime Minister Nguza Karl-I-Bond suspended the chaotic forum Jan. 19 saying its stormy sessions were causing tribal tension in this huge central African nation.

The European Community also condemned the killings, calling on Zaire to observe human rights and take long-promised steps toward democracy, including calling a national assembly into session.

Information Minister Kitenge Yezu said the final official death toll was 17. Zairean opposition sources in neighboring Congo say as many as 42 were killed.

Western powers have made little secret of wanting President Mobutu removed from power since the end of the cold war reduced Zaire's strategic importance to the West. But Mobutu, who has kept an iron grip on Zaire throughout his 27 years in power, has a reputation for weathering similar storms.

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