Mon, Nov 13, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Shootouts mar vote count in Kinshasa


Congolese supporters of Vice President and presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba beat a policeman during clashes in Kinshasa on Saturday.


Shootouts between the supporters of rival presidential candidates in an election held to end years of war killed three civilians and a soldier in Kinshasa, its governor said yesterday.

Saturday's gunfire and exploding mortars ratcheted up tension as an anxious population awaited results of the first free elections in nearly 50 years.

Governor Baudouin Liwanga said two women and a man were caught in crossfire between loyalists of President Joseph Kabila and Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, and one soldier was killed.

The shooting lasted less than four hours and was confined to a couple of blocks in front of the residence and a television station of Bemba, a former rebel leader.

But it raised fears about what could happen when final results were announced, expected yesterday. Results from the first round of voting, in August, provoked clashes between the rival's security forces that lasted three days in Kinshasa and left 23 people dead.

The latest eruption came as the Independent Electoral Commission announced new results with 80 percent of votes counted. It gave Kabila nearly 60 percent of votes to Bemba's 40 percent.

Saturday's trouble started when police fired into the air to disperse youthful protesters who burned tires and blocked the road in front of Bemba's TV station, Interior Minister Denis Kalume told reporters.

A photojournalist at Bemba's residence saw one of Bemba's fighters fire an 80mm mortar, and an incoming round exploded outside the wall of the residence shortly after, forcing a group of lawmakers that had gathered outside to run for cover.

Dozens of heavily armed fighters -- some in military uniform, others not -- brandished submachine-guns and pistols. One man handed out belts of machine-gun ammunition while others argued.

UN peacekeepers deployed troops at either side of Bemba's residence. Saturday's shooting ended when UN authorities sponsored a meeting between the the protagonist groups.

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