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Congo's Leader Calls for Peaceful Vote

Elections this weekend include the nation's first democratic presidential ballot in four decades.

July 30, 2006|Edward Harris | Associated Press Writer

KINSHASA, Congo — President Joseph Kabila called on Congo's citizens Friday to shun violence during this weekend's elections, telling thousands of cheering supporters that their votes can bring peace to the Central African country.

Sunday's vote is Congo's first democratic presidential ballot after more than four decades of violence and unrest.

"We want to turn the page," Kabila told a crowd of about 3,000 at an old fairground on the last day of campaigning. "We want elections in calm, peace and discipline."

Kabila, 34, is the front-runner. He became president under a power-sharing deal when his father was assassinated in 2001.

"I ask you to vote for the candidate of the people," he said. "Vote for the consolidation of peace and for the advancement of our reconstruction."

About 30 people died in politically related violence during a month of campaigning by 33 presidential and thousands of legislative candidates.

With such a crowded field, no presidential candidate is expected to get the necessary majority. A runoff between the top two winners probably would be held in October.

Candidates include ex-rebels and former allies of late strongman Mobutu Sese Seko. At stake is control of the purse strings in a country rich in timber, gems and ore.

Congo, formerly known as Zaire, tumbled into back-to-back civil wars that began in 1996 and ended in 2002 with peace deals that facilitated Kabila's current transitional administration.

But much of the east remains in turmoil, and that instability is just one of the hurdles facing election organizers in a sprawling country with few paved roads and poor communications.

A campaign event in the capital for one of Kabila's main rivals turned violent Thursday, resulting in at least five deaths.

A mob attacked and killed a soldier who allegedly fired into the crowd near a rally by 20,000 supporters of candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba. Angry youths ran through the streets, burning and looting a church bearing Kabila posters.

The United Nations said a police officer also died in the mayhem, and Bemba's officials said three civilians were killed. Before the rally, a fire at a camp for militiamen loyal to Bemba killed two children, witnesses said.

The vote "will not be perfect," Ross Mountain, the top U.N. official in Congo, told reporters by a video link from Kinshasa, the capital. But he said sporadic violence had been contained.

The European Union and Belgium, Congo's colonial ruler before 1960, are paying most of the $430-million cost of the United Nations' election-support operation -- the world body's biggest.

Mountain said the U.N. trained 50,000 election officials who will be joined by international observers at the nation's 12,000 voting centers. More than 25 million of the country's estimated 62 million people are registered to vote.

Associated Press writer Constant Brand in Brussels contributed to this report.

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