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Appeal for calm as country awaits poll result

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©  Tiggy Ridley/IRIN

Supporters of incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, in Kinshasa

KNSHASA, 15 Nov 2006 (IRIN) - Foreign envoys monitoring the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Wednesday appealed for calm while armed forces patrolled the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, amid rising tension between supporters of presidential contenders Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Four days before final results of the 29 October presidential re-run are expected to be announced, the envoys said: "Legal procedures provide for the contestation of results where cheating is alleged. Political officials should call on their supporters to remain calm and to respect the verdict of the polls, as they had undertaken to do."

Across the capital, European Union and United Nations troops monitored the situation. Police arrested groups of people found discussing politics in the streets - in accordance with an earlier ban on such public gatherings. "The election should remain free and democratic and should not be violent," the envoys, who form the International Committee in Support of the Transition, said in a statement.

Tension has risen after a coalition of political parties supporting Bemba's presidential candidature rejected partial poll results, which give incumbent Kabila the majority.

"We would like to tell the nation and the international community that the results collated so far of 11.95 million votes cast at compilation centres show the Union pour la nation of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo in the lead with 52.5 percent of the votes," Vincent de Paul Lunda-Bululu, one of the 31 candidates who were unsuccessful of the first round, said on Tuesday.

The coalition consists of 100 political parties and personalities, among them 15 unsuccessful presidential candidates. Rejecting the Independent Electoral Commission's partial results from 99 percent of the votes cast, it accused the commission of inflating voter numbers, especially in the east of the country where Kabila commands strong support.

The Congolese Roman Catholic Cardinal Frederic Etsou also weighed in, saying on Radio France Internationale that the results published so far did not reflect reality.

"The nation and international community should note that the Union pour la nation will not accept an electoral hijack aimed at stealing victory from the Congolese people," Lunda-Bululu said, adding that the commission had abused Bemba's good faith and that of his party by using the agreement between him and Kabila to accept the run-off results.

Bemba, in an earlier statement, said: "We remain serene, we trust the results of these elections and we await [the] answers of the electoral commission."

Commission President Apollinaire Malumalu rejected the claims. "This serves no purpose. I don't know what those who want to deceive themselves hope to gain," he said.

"Politicians should avoid agreeing with results that they have verified then going on radio and television to say they have nothing to do with the election process. Elections require precision and it is this that guarantees that the process is transparent. The Electoral Commission is independent and will not be subject to any blackmail by anyone," he added.

According to results posted on the commission's website, Kabila has 9.19 million votes out of 15.7 million cast, and Bemba has 6.5 million.

Bemba and his supporters say they have presented the commission with five reasons for disputing the results. The commission has said it would check the disputed figures and respond.

"We wish to assure the public that we want only the truth of the ballot boxes and that we will not betray the population. We want and will continue to defend the interests of the public until the end," Bemba said. "We want these elections to be free, democratic and transparent."

Some election observers, too, said there had been irregularities, but asked the contenders to seek redress in courts. "The electoral observers have noted irregularities that we are presently looking into and we will make a statement as to their impact on the results," Abraham Samba, coordinator of the network of organisations monitoring the polls, said. "There has never been an election process without irregularities."

At the weekend, police arrested 337 people, among them 87 children, over violence that rocked Kinshasa on Saturday. At least four people died when fighting broke out between security forces and Bemba's supporters. Calm later returned to the city.

[Countdown in the Congo]

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