1960: Violence follows army coup in Congo

On this day in September 1960, the Congolese army said it took control of the West African state of Congo just 10 weeks after the country was granted independence.

The head of the Congolese army, Colonel Joseph Mobutu, said he had suspended the two rival prime ministers and President Joseph Kasavubu until the crisis was resolved.

Meanwhile, there was heavy fighting in the southern breakaway province of Katanga, where up to 70 persons were killed.

It began when police started searching buildings for supporters of the dismissed prime minister, Patrice Lumumba.

Lumumba, elected prime minister when Congo was given its independence by Belgium on June 30, fled to his headquarters in Stanleyville.

A warrant for his arrest was issued after he rejected the “illegal” attempt to dismiss him as prime minister. His rival for the office of prime minister, Joseph Ileo, was appointed by President Kasavubu.

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All three men were later suspended from office and parliament was adjourned for at least a month. Lumumba’s newly-formed government came under pressure just two weeks after independence when the mineral-rich Katanga province, led by Moise Tschombe, broke away from central control.

Belgian troops moved in, initially to defend foreign nationals, but then refused Lumumba’s orders to leave.

United Nations troops were sent to Manona, the scene of the fighting, 400 miles north of Elisabethville, capital of Katanga.

They started airlifting women and children from the town. But the UN was also criticised for intervening in Congo’s internal affairs.

The Soviet Union called for the dismissal of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjoeld, accusing him of violating Security Council instructions in Congo.

It accused UN troops of seizing a local radio station in Leo-poldville and closing all Congo’s airports.

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