KINSHASA, ZAIRE, SEPT. 29 -- Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko, ceding some power after 26 years of autocratic rule, asked opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi today to form a crisis government.
Following a week of protests and looting, the beleaguered president fired his army chief and agreed to the choice of Tshisekedi, his fiercest adversary since 1980, after nine hours of talks with his opponents.
"I have no comment to make," Tshisekedi, interior minister before he split with Mobutu, said as he left the talks. Aides said he had accepted the challenge of trying to steer Zaire through the crisis in an uneasy tandem with Mobutu.
Mobutu, engaged in a determined fight to prolong his rule, emerged into a crowd of reporters looking impassive. Asked if the negotiations with a score of opposition leaders had gone well, the 60-year-old president replied: "I think so."
The two sides are to meet again Monday for the third day to try to share out cabinet posts. A joint statement issued tonight said Tshisekedi would be formally invested by parliament -- still an exclusive preserve of Mobutu's supporters -- before being presented to Zaire's chaotic National Conference on Democratic Reform.
The opposition had dropped earlier demands that any new government be approved by the conference. The statement said the new government would be "presented" to the 3,000 delegates, many of whom say Mobutu must resign.
Military sources said Mobutu had ordered a restructuring of the armed forces, since soldiers led an orgy of looting that ravaged the country last week. State radio said 117 people had been killed and more than 150 injured.
Gen. Manzembe Mayibanga was replaced by the head of military intelligence, Gen. Mahele Liyeko, for failure to control the armed forces, an official statement said.
Liyeko appealed to the army to "leave politics to the politicians" and to respect the law and property. He persuaded paratroops to withdraw after they seized Kinshasa airport last Monday following the looting.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed last week was lifted. Mobutu and his supporters at the talks at first refused to accept Tshisekedi to replace Prime Minister Mulumba Lukoji. But the opposition's "sacred union" alliance stood firm and a committee of "wise men," including Mobutu, eventually agreed.