Fri, Nov 17, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Incumbent Kabila wins DR Congo election

AWAITING REACTION The long overdue conclusion of the presidential election raised both hopes that violence would finally end and fears that it would not


Incumbent President Joseph Kabila was declared the winner of the Democratic Republic of Congo's bitterly contested presidential election on Wednesday, sparking celebrations in the east and protests from his challenger's camp.

Kabila, Africa's youngest head of state at 35, took 58 percent of the vote in the Oct. 29 second-round ballot, compared with 42 percent for his rival, Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) said.

In a televised statement shortly afterwards, Kabila appealed to his countrymen to demonstrate "brotherhood and tolerance" in the election aftermath.

While Bemba was not expected to react officially until yesterday, his head of Cabinet protested on Wednesday night that the election had been rigged.

"This is an electoral hold-up," said Fidele Babala, the top aide to Bemba.

"The speed with which the Independent Electoral Commission announced the results, while there were still questions pending that had a bearing on the outcome, raises doubts about its impartiality," Babala added, stressing that he was voicing his personal view.

Under electoral rules, the candidates have three days to challenge the provisional result before the Supreme Court, which is expected to formally declare the winner at the end of this month.

Kabila had earlier called for calm amid mounting fears of violence between the heavily armed rival camps in the nation's capital, Kinshasa.

The UN mission in the country also appealed for calm.

It stressed that the CEI had "met frequently with both parties to discuss any concerns and [had] looked thoroughly into allegations of irregularities."

Tensions had been running high in Kinshasa after Bemba's camp complained of "systematic errors" in the compiling of figures from a country that is almost the size of western Europe but has few roads and ruined infrastructure.

On Wednesday night, however, the capital, where the majority had voted for Bemba, was still quiet and under heavy UN protection.

"There are no celebrations. It's more like a funeral wake," Babala said.

By contrast the streets of the eastern cities, which had mainly supported Kabila, were filled with people celebrating his victory.

"Victory at last. The sun has just risen. Kabila and Bemba should agree to get on so that Congo can prosper," chanted a group of students in the eastern city of Bukavu.

Bemba's representative on the CEI walked out before the commission had completed its deliberations on Wednesday, CEI spokesman Delion Kimbulungu said.

In an apparent effort to calm tensions, UN special envoy William Swing, the head of the UN peacekeeping force, Defense Minister Tharcisse Habarugira and other top military and civilian officials had gathered at Bemba's heavily guarded residence before the result was announced.

After first-round results were released in August, heavy fighting broke out in Kinshasa between Kabila's guard and troops supporting Bemba, claiming at least 23 lives. Four people were killed in renewed clashes near Bemba's official residence on Saturday.

Kabila pledged earlier on Wednesday to bring in a coalition government if he won the election.

Barring a legal setback, he is due to be sworn in on Dec. 10.

Kabila was first appointed president in 2001 after the assassination of his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who had ousted the country's dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.

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