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Congo's candidate debate scrapped

Monuc\BBC - October 26, 2006

A debate between the two presidential candidates in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been cancelled ahead of this Sunday's final round vote.
Incumbent President Joseph Kabila and his challenger Jean-Pierre Bemba failed to agree on the terms of the debate.

Mr Bemba wanted a live face-to-face discussion but the president wanted seperate pre-recorded interviews to be edited together before airing.

Meanwhile, the UN mission in DR Congo has appealed for calm before the poll.

The United Nations has its biggest force anywhere in the world in the DR Congo, where it is monitoring a peace agreement between warring factions signed in 2002.

UN spokesman Jean Tobie Okala condemned a number of isolated incidents which have taken place since the start of the election campaign.

Tensions are high because the two candidates were belligerents in the civil war and both still have loyal armed forces.


The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in the capital, Kinshasa, says Mr Bemba's supporters, climbed on trucks and sang rallying singing slogans against Mr Kabila as the debate was cancelled.

According to the country's electoral law the candidates should hold a debate before the second round of voting.

The live and pre-recorded options had been proposed by the media authority, but as the candidates themselves failed to reach an agreement the debate was cancelled.

Our correspondent says that most people in the capital blamed Mr Kabila for the cancellation and accused him of being unable to stand up to Mr Bemba in a live discussion.

But Mr Kabila's spokesman rejected this suggestion and said that security was the issue and the Mr Bemba's temper made a live debate untenable.

"The objective of the debate is to give the opportunities to those who are going to vote actually to hear the vision of both candidates," Antoine Gonda said.

He went on to explain that pre-recorded interviews would ensure an equal playing field as both candidates would be able to answer the same questions in the same amount of time.

Mr Kabila won more votes overall than Mr Bemba in the first round, but did badly in Kinshasa.

The areas around the capital are now the key battleground for votes.

One aspect of the campaign so far is that the country has been broadly split politically into language areas

In the first round of voting, when there were over 30 candidates, there was a strong tendency for the incumbent President Kabila to do well in the east, where the lingua franca is Swahili and for Mr Bemba to do well in the west, where most people speak Lingala.

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