Tue, Aug 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Violence mars release of Congo poll results

SIX DEAD Reports said that fighting erupted between the president's guards and the vice president's forces as the two prepared to compete in a runoff vote on Oct. 29

DPA , KINSHASA AND JOHANNESBURG

A man is carried away in a cart yesterday after he was wounded when gunbattles erupted a few moments before the release of the official results by the independent electoral commission in Kinshasa.

PHOTO: AFP

Preliminary election results showing Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila and Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba will square off in an Oct. 29 runoff vote were overshadowed by the death of six people after gunbattles erupted in Kinshasa, officials reported yesterday.

The July 30 first-round election, which also included voting for parliament, was the first in 40 years in the war-torn country.

Counting of votes in the internationally organized election took three weeks due to the lack of paved roads or communication infrastructure in the DRC.

Kabila won an easy plurality in the 32-candidate field, but his nearly 45 percent of the vote fell short of the majority needed to avoid a second-round election.

Bemba, a former rebel leader, won the right to contest the runoff against Kabila, capturing second place with 20 percent of the vote.

Kabila, 35, has held the presidency since the January 2001 assassination of his father, strongman Laurent Kabila.

The results must still be confirmed by the supreme court.

Shootout

Initial reports said the shoot-outs in Kinshasa were between members of Kabila's presidential guard and security forces loyal to the vice president.

Troops from the German-led EU mission in Congo were trying to monitor the fighting, and armored street patrols reported calm was restored yesterday morning. At least six deaths were reported in the firefights.

The EU force helped secure what were the first elections in the DRC in 40 years.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement the elections were a "historic milestone" in the peace process of the country and urged Congolese parties and candidates to abide by the electoral law and to accept and respect the final results of the elections.

"The United Nations remains deeply committed to supporting the people of Congo in their efforts to achieve lasting stability and democracy throughout the country, as well as sustained economic development," Annan said.

Slow count

It took three weeks to count the vote from 50,000 polling stations in the impoverished, war-torn country, which is the size of Western Europe and has few paved roads and little communications infrastructure.

There was a 70.5 percent voter turnout in the July 30 elections, which also saw 10,000 candidates contesting 500 seats in parliament. Under UN leadership, the election commission is to issue results in the parliamentary races early next month.

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