Sunday, November 12, 2006

DRC Election Update: Kabila Remains in Strong Lead Amid Clashes and Charges of Fraud

By David Lewis

KINSHASA, Nov 12 (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeeping forces clamped a heavy security shield on Congo's capital Kinshasa on Sunday, a day after the riverside city was shaken by gunbattles linked to a historic but tense presidential election.

The government said four people were killed in the fighting on Saturday between supporters and soldiers loyal to Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila and those of his election rival, Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The vast, former Belgian colony, which is struggling to emerge from years of violence and chaos, is awaiting the official result of their Oct. 29 run-off, due within a week.

Returns filed by polling stations indicated Kabila leading with around 60 percent of the vote, while Bemba had 40 percent.

Days before Saturday's fighting, Bemba's camp had complained of "systematic cheating" in the vote counting. The Independent Electoral Commission said there was no evidence to support this.

But in a renewed challenge on Sunday, Bemba's campaign manager Fidel Babala said the vice-president's camp was sending another letter of complaint to the commission.

"We may not respect the results if they don't take our complaints seriously," he said.

Despite the continuing dispute, the streets of Kinshasa, which had echoed on Saturday to the sound of automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, were calm on Sunday.

The guns fell silent after emergency talks between representatives of Kabila and Bemba and U.N. leaders of the world's biggest peacekeeping force, which is deployed in Congo.

Blue-helmeted U.N. troops in white-painted armoured cars guarded main crossroads and offices and premises in Kinshasa used by Bemba, which were the scene of Saturday's fighting.

Buildings bore the marks of fresh bullet holes.

"This morning it is calm after yesterday's troubles. We have voted but we don't know how this will end. If these troubles continue, we will just keep on suffering," Isidore Tambu, a security guard outside a shop, told Reuters.


Saturday's fighting erupted after police broke up a protest by Bemba supporters.

According to polling station returns from 140 out of the country's 169 constituencies, Kabila has just under 60 percent of the vote, while Bemba has nearly 41 percent, diplomats said.

They were computing these percentages from individual returns published on the election commission's Website, although the commission itself has not yet issued any certified totals.

A senior Kabila aide said the protests by Bemba's supporters went against his promises to accept the final poll results.

"If he doesn't ... he will have to be dealt with. Dealing with him will involve strong measures," the aide, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

A western diplomat said the U.N. forces, who are backed by a smaller European Union contingent, had seemed slow to react to Saturday's violence.

"At the first sign of shooting they should intervene immediately," he said, asking not to be identified.

U.N. and EU peacekeepers have stepped up patrols in recent weeks, hoping to avoid a repetition of August violence when Bemba's and Kabila's private armies fought fierce battles in Kinshasa in which some 30 people were killed.

The Oct. 29 run-off, the deciding vote of the first free elections held in Congo in more than 40 years, was the culmination of a complex peace process following the end of Congo's 1998-2003 war.

The conflict created a huge humanitarian crisis that has killed around 4 million people.

Clashes erupt in DR Congo capital

Clashes have erupted between security forces and supporters of a presidential candidate in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, Kinshasa.

Police said two civilians were killed in cross-fire after gunfire and explosions were heard near the offices of Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba.

He trails his rival, President Joseph Kabila, with most votes counted in the second round of a presidential poll.

Fighters loyal to the two men clashed after the first round of voting.

At least 23 people were killed in gun battles in Kinshasa after the announcement of first round results in late July.

The first round of elections showed a regional divide, with Mr Kabila gaining a landslide in the Swahili-speaking east, while Mr Bemba got most support in the west, where Lingala is the common language.

Mr Bemba's supporters have repeatedly said electoral fraud has damaged their candidate's chances.

Latest results from the second round run-off give Mr Kabila 61% of the vote, and the former rebel leader Mr Bemba 39%, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) website.

Government warning

Saturday's violence is said to have started when Mr Bemba's armed supporters took to the streets near his offices.

Police reportedly fired in the air to disperse the group, who had placed burning tyres in the streets to disrupt traffic.

Gun and heavy artillery fire has been heard, and reports say Mr Bemba's supporters are armed with mortars and rocket launchers.

According to the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman, many of them are high on drugs and half-naked, with a piece of red tissue on their head or their shoulder to differentiate them from the other soldiers.

He says they may be trying to provoke unrest in the capital, knowing that most of the people in the area voted for Mr Bemba in the election.

According to the Reuters news agency, the government has threatened to despatch the army to quell the unrest.

"If this continues, the army will have to intervene to restore order," Interior Minister Denis Kalume told the agency.

UN and EU peacekeeping troops stationed in the city are also on alert but have not intervened.

Results pledge

This year's elections were the first since the end of DR Congo's five-year civil war, in which up to four million people died.

Kabila (above, at left): 61%
Bemba (at right): 39%
Turnout: 67%
Votes counted: 65%
Source: CEI

They are also seen as the country's first free elections since independence in 1960.

United Nations observers said the vote was the most significant one in Africa since Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa's president in 1994.

Turnout in the second round was 67%, with 65% of the votes counted, according to the CEI.

The commission has until 19 November to announce the results and stresses that no "trend projection" can be made on the basis of the provisional results.

Both men have pledged to respect the outcome of the election.

The world's largest peacekeeping force - 17,000-strong - is in DR Congo, tasked with ensuring security.

International observers generally praised the vote as being well-run, despite some disruptions in the north-east of the country.

The election was intended to close the door on decades of dictatorship and conflict.

Counting the votes is a time-consuming process as all the ballot papers had to be transported from sometimes remote locations to compilation centres.

DR Congo is two-thirds the size of western Europe and has just 300 miles of paved roads.

The country's rich reserves of minerals such as gold, diamonds and coltan - used in mobile phones - have attracted a series of armed groups, both Congolese and foreign, intent on looting.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/11/11 20:32:01 GMT

Poll fraud accusations raise Congo tensions

By David Lewis

KINSHASA, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Accusations of serious fraud from one camp in Congo's historic elections are raising tensions as peacekeepers try to avoid further violence, diplomats and observers said on Friday.

The latest partial results published by Democratic Republic of Congo's electoral commission point to Jean-Pierre Bemba cutting into the lead of President Joseph Kabila, who has around 60 percent with nearly two thirds of results processed.

However, Bemba's camp has publicly complained twice this week about "systematic" errors amounting to a "policy of cheating" in the compilation of results, stirring fears some may reject polls meant to draw a line under a decade of war.

"Given the sensitive political situation, it's unhelpful to have candidates brandishing allegations publicly before they can be responded to by the election commission," Colin Stewart, a co-director of the U.S. Carter Center in Congo, told Reuters.

A pamphlet circulated on the streets of the mostly pro-Bemba capital Kinshasa accuses the electoral commission of cheating and urges the population to reject the result. Officials in Bemba's camp said they had nothing to do with the document.

Some supporters gathered in small crowds and burnt tyres near Bemba's television station on Friday morning, but later dispersed as riot police units moved into the area.

In the latest effort to ensure calm, both candidates' camps vowed on Friday not to use or try to manipulate Congo's police or armed forces, which are supposed to be apolitical.

The Oct. 29 vote was the last stage in Congo's first free elections for more than 40 years and the culmination of a peace process that has taken years and cost billions of dollars to try and end the Democratic Republic of Congo's 1998-2003 war.

The conflict sparked a humanitarian crisis that has killed more than 4 million people.


Bemba's coalition has complained of several irregularities, discrepancies between results they compiled and those published, vast numbers of people voting even though they weren't on lists and the harassment of their witnesses at polling stations.

"We know there have been some problems but we don't know how widespread they are or what impact they could have on the results," Stewart said.

Kabila's and Bemba's private armies fought several days of battles in Kinshasa in August around the time first-round results were announced.

U.N. and EU peacekeepers have stepped up patrols and fortified gun positions in the city's streets ahead of the second-round results, hoping to avoid any more violence.

Following the first round of voting, the Carter Center said there had been irregularities but they would not have changed the results due to the wide margins between candidates' tallies.

However, after the run-off, international monitors warned the result could be close, increasing the chances of a dispute.

"The level of tolerance for irregularities lowers as the results get closer," the Carter Center's Stewart said.

A Western diplomat said much depended on how Bemba's complaints were dealt with.

"We have to put him in a position where all his complaints have been taken into account," the diplomat said.

"What he will probably do would be to allow a head of steam to build up in Kinshasa amongst people who are disappointed with Bemba failing to win," the diplomat said.

"Yes, it is beginning to worry people."

Presidential Contenders Say They Will Accept Election Results - UN

UN News Service (New York)
November 8, 2006

Leading Congolese presidential contenders President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba are committed to supporting an independent commission tallying the votes from last month's runoff between them, the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) said today.

Mr. Kabila and Mr. Bemba reaffirmed that commitment yesterday in a joint statement pledging not to speculate on results of the election, which was the first to be held in the country in over four decades. Both candidates also acknowledged that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as the sole authority empowered to announce the results, MONUC said.

Since the election, rampant speculation on the final tally triggered the IEC to issue preliminary results earlier this week, while the Congolese High Authority on Media will impose sanctions on local media outlets that might deliberately misrepresent or disrupt the proper announcement of the election results, according to MONUC.

To date, 85 per cent of the ballots have reached the capital city of Kinshasa for certification and final results are expected 19 November, the Mission said.

MONUC also announced that results from the South Kivu province have set a new record for the DRC, with 90.16 per cent of the region's 1.6 million registered voters cast their ballots in the 29 October election. Voters in that region largely supported incumbent Mr. Kabila, MONUC noted.

The mission praised Congolese voters for their "courage and optimism" during last month's presidential run off in the country's first election in over 40 years.

While describing the situation as more calm than tense, MONUC voiced concern about insecurity in certain areas. The DRC Armed Forces still fail to demonstrate discipline on the ground and others are perpetrators of human rights violations, MONUC military spokesman Lt. Col. St├ęphane Lescoffit said today at a press briefing, pointing to corruption cases in Ituri district and reports of violent demonstrations in Mbandaka, Boende, Bumba and Basankusu.

He added that MONUC will remain vigilant and prevent any recourse to violence by those who want to oppose the choice of the Congolese people.

MONUC currently has over 18,000 uniformed personnel in the DRC to help the country rebuild after the six-year conflict ended in 1999.

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