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Polls Open in Post-War DRC Election

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VOA News - October 29, 2006

An election worker processes voters at a polling station in Bumba in Congo's Equatorial province, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2006
An election worker processes voters at a polling station in Bumba in Congo's Equatorial province, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2006
Polls have opened in a decisive second round, post-war presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Transitional President Joseph Kabila, the son of a slain coup leader, faces off against Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba, a former Uganda backed rebel. 

Borders have been ordered closed since early Sunday, while officials for both candidates have called for calm, following a campaign that saw little actually campaigning by candidates because of security concerns.

Some residents in the capital say they did not vote in the first round, because there were more than 30 candidates. But they say, now, the choice is clear, and that they will vote.

The first round in July was marked by attacks on polling centers in central mining areas, while first round results were followed by deadly clashes in Kinshasa.

Mr. Kabila did well in the east and overall with 45 percent of the vote, while Vice President Bemba got 20 percent, but dominated in western areas. They have both worked hard to build alliances, and their private militias remain eerily present in the capital, as voting gets underway. 

A spokesman for the large United Nations peacekeeping mission, Jean Tobie Okala, believes, despite, the many security challenges, it will be a success.

"A lot of people have concerns about the security," Okala says. "But we say that there are a lot of rumors. We learned a lot from the incidents of August.  There are 70,000 national police that will be deployed to secure the polls, and, besides these 70,000, you have our own forces, which means 17,600 blue helmets, including also some EUFOR forces, 1500."

Some of those forces from the European Rapid Reaction Force are actually based in nearby Gabon, but also ready to intervene.

Forty-thousand national and one-thousand international observers will be criss-crossing the vast Congo as monitors.

Twenty five million Congolese are registered as voters in an election seen as an opportunity to end decades of misrule and years of war.

Voting in July also led to the selection of a new parliament, and, now, voters are being asked to choose new provincial representatives, as well as who will be their first elected president in four decades. 


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