Forces loyal to Congo's leader crushed a coup attempt Friday by renegades within the presidential guard in fighting that sent gunfire and explosions echoing through the capital of Africa's third-largest nation.

The crisis was the second this month for President Joseph Kabila's 14-month-old government, established to end the deadly war that ran from 1998 through 2002.

Kabila, appearing on state television in a khaki uniform hours after the uprising's leaders fled, told Congolese to brace themselves. "Stay calm, prepare yourself to resist," he said, "because I will allow nobody to try a coup d'etat or to throw off-course our peace process.

"As for me, I'm fine," added Kabila, 32, whose appearance quashed rumors that he had been injured or killed.

At stake was the stability of Congo, and with it Central Africa. Congo's five-year war drew in the armies of five other African countries, splitting a nation that before the war was one of the world's largest mineral producers -- the No. 3 exporter of rough diamonds and holder of 80 percent of the world's cobalt reserves. Relief workers say the war killed 3.3 million people.

By late Friday afternoon, the officer behind the attempted coup was on the run south of the capital with 21 of his men, pursued by loyalist troops backed by helicopters, said a presidential spokesman, Kadura Kasonga.

The officer, Maj. Eric Lenge, had been a trusted aide to Kabila, frequently photographed behind him at official functions, including at Kabila's 2001 inauguration, which followed the assassination of Kabila's father and predecessor, Laurent, by presidential bodyguards.

Lenge launched the coup attempt by commandeering state broadcast centers after midnight. He announced he was "neutralizing" the transition government. Condemning Joseph Kabila's government as ineffective, Lenge appealed to members of Congo's armed forces to stay in their barracks and accede to the takeover.

But loyalist forces routed Lenge and his fighters from the broadcast headquarters, sending them retreating to a presidential guard base in the capital.

Information Minister Vital Kamerhe then appeared on state airwaves before dawn to declare "the situation entirely under control" without a shot fired.

Congo government and military leaders described Lenge and his followers breaking out of the base and fleeing, first to Kinshasa's international airport and then to the south of the city, toward the Bas Congo region.

It was unclear how many troops took part in the failed coup. Accounts of various officials ranged from 20 to the low hundreds. Diplomats said the dissident forces expressed grievances about pay, in partial or full arrears by the government for months.

Most of Congo's sprawling capital, Kinshasa, appeared to have slept through the immediate attempt to seize power. Heavy automatic weapons fire and tank-cannon blasts woke up the city around daybreak, however. Diplomats said loyalist forces were battling the dissidents at their barracks. Diplomats and residents also reported heavy gunfire around Kabila's residence.

The coup attempt was the second military uprising against the postwar government. In March, hundreds of troops attacked military installations in a capital uprising also linked by some accounts to grievances over pay.