President Joseph Kabila declared official winner of the run-off elections by the Democratic Republic of Congo Supreme Court.
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Congo supreme court upholds Joseph Kabila's victory in landmark presidential elections
KINSHASA, Congo, Nov. 27, 2006
By EDDY ISANGO Associated Press Writer
(AP) The supreme court on Monday upheld President Joseph Kabila's victory in Congo's landmark elections, ruling as unfounded the runner-up's charges of widespread fraud in balloting meant to usher the restive Central African nation toward long-term peace and stability.
Kabila won the landmark Oct. 29 runoff with 58 percent of votes, compared with about 42 percent for former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, according to the tally confirmed by the court. Bemba had challenged the results, saying that the vote was invalidated by systematic cheating.
"The supreme court of justice proclaims Joseph Kabila elected by absolute majority," Chief Judge Benoit Lwamba said, in remarks broadcast on Congolese television. Judge Kalonda Teleoma said Bemba's charges were "without foundation."
The capital appeared calm immediately after the announcement, but the long election process has been marred by sporadic violence.
Fighting broke out between supporters of the two candidates in July after the results of the first round of voting yielded no clear winner. More clashes followed the October runoff election, as Bemba disputed Kabila's apparent victory.
Last week, parts of the supreme court building caught on fire after fights broke out in a crowd of Bemba supporters.
After the announcement police patrolled near-empty avenues in much of the capital, Kinshasa, as residents stayed in their houses. In a few areas people sang in the street in celebration, while some others shouted support for Bemba.
With Monday's decision, Kabila is set to become Congo's first freely elected president since independence from Belgium in 1960. The mineral-rich country has been hobbled by the 32-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko and a 1998-2002 war in which neighboring countries pillaged its resources.
Kabila generally has been credited with pushing through the peace plan that ended the war, though his administration has been charged with corruption and his army with serious human rights abuses. Some 17,500 U.N. peacekeepers are overseeing Congo's postwar transition.
Election monitors generally called the results fair, though cheating was recorded throughout the country.
In a reminder of the challenges Kabila faces, U.N. peacekeepers on Monday battled militia fighters loyal to a dissident general as the insurgents tried to advance on the capital of an eastern province.
"They came under fire from assaulting troops in the vicinity of Sake," U.N. spokesman Kemal Saiki said. "Our troops returned fire."
An attack helicopter was called in and the militia forces pulled back from their advance on Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, Saiki said.
Sporadic exchanges of gunfire continued, he said, but the U.N. controlled Sake and the surrounding area.
Fighting first broke out in the area Saturday, when rebel troops loyal to warlord Laurent Nkunda clashed with Congolese army forces. Thousands fled Sake, a town of about 12,000 people 18 miles west of Goma. The town was deserted Monday, Saiki said.
About 3,500 U.N. troops are stationed in the area, trying to maintain calm as Congo tries to make the transition to democracy after a 1998-2002 war and decades of dictatorship.
After the war, Nkunda, a former general, quit Congo's army and launched a rebellion. He said that the transition to democracy was flawed and excluded the minority Tutsi community.
Nkunda controls thousands of fighters and claims the loyalty of the 81st and 83rd army brigades, the rebel soldiers involved in the most recent clashes.
Congo is trying to forge a unified army out of half a dozen former militias, but progress has been slow. Only 14 of a planned 18 brigades have been integrated, and Nkunda's forces have refused to join.
Congo's army reported three dead and about 50 wounded since Saturday, said Jacqueline Chenard, a U.N. spokeswoman in Goma.
Col. Delphin Kahindi, regional commander for Congo's army in Goma, said he counted 10 bodies of rebel fighters. He added that army forces had captured some wounded rebels.
A delegation of government and U.N. officials was headed to Goma to try to broker a cease-fire, Saiki said.
Nkunda has launched attacks over the years on other major eastern towns, including the city of Bukavu, on the shore of Lake Kivu. Rights groups have accused Nkunda's forces of torturing and raping civilians.
The United States recently imposed sanctions on Nkunda, along with six other warlords and businessmen, accusing them of promoting instability. Their assets were frozen, and Americans are barred from doing business with them.