Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko's apparent decision to give up power ends a long and iron-fisted chapter in independent Zaire's history. Here is a look at the central African nation since it gained independence from Belgium: NEWLN:History
In one of Africa's most tumultuous transitions to independence, the Belgian Congo was declared independent in 1960. The election of Patrice Lumumba was followed by violence, the flight of Europeans, and temporary secession of mineral-rich Katanga province, now Shaba. U.N. troops were sent in and remained until 1964. Mobutu, then an army colonel, stepped into power in 1965 after fives years of bloody chaos and failure in government. He imposed his personal mark on the country in his ruthless determination to unite the nation under his strict control. He adopted the name Zaire in October 1971.
Zaire covers 905,063 square miles (2.3 million square km), an area one-quarter the size of the United States. It is landlocked except for a narrow slip of coast at the end of a western panhandle between Congo and Angola that carries the mighty Zaire (Congo) River to the Atlantic. The 2,900-mile (3,680-km) river, is Africa's largest after the Nile. The capital, Kinshasa (formerly Leopoldville), is a port on the Zaire River 250 miles (400 km) west of the Atlantic coast. Countries surrounding Zaire are Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan to the north, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east, and Zambia and Angola to the south. NEWLN:People
With more than 43.8 million people, Zaire is one of Africa's most populous countries. The population is almost entirely ethnic Bantu. French is the official language. NEWLN:Economy
Principal commodity exports are copper, diamonds and some crude oil. Zaire's infrastructure has deteriorated dramatically since independence from Belgium. In recent months, many government workers have not been paid and hospitals are without supplies. In the final months of power, Mobutu reportedly had to use his personal fortune, once estimated by the U.S. State Department to be about $5 billion, to support his endangered government. ---
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