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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006, 01:53 GMT 02:53 UK
Congo election reporters' log: Tuesday
Crowd at rally in Kinshasa

The Democratic Republic of Congo is getting ready for what should be the first free presidential elections since independence 45 years ago.

After years of conflict and misrule, this country some two-thirds the size of western Europe does not have a road or railway running from one side to the other.

A team of BBC reporters is covering the polls and journalists are sending their observations:

Karen Allen, Geti, Tuesday 25 July: 2230 local time

The town of Geti close to the Ugandan border has a population of 15,000, but in the past two weeks that has more than doubled, as tens of thousands of internally displaced people have fled the fighting between rebel groups and the fragmented Congolese army.

Men look at voter list in Geti
Ituri province has one of the highest voter registrations

We arrived in the late afternoon to find swelling crowds. More than half are children, grubby, hungry and excited at the arrival of strangers.

Many of the families here try to cling on to some semblance of normality. I pass a man having a haircut at a makeshift barber's stall, and as night falls all you can smell is burning fires as women prepare a modest meal of beans.

But the World Food Programme is warning that food supplies here are drying up. They describe the recent influx of frightened people as the worst displacement they've seen in the past two years.

So what are the prospects for Sunday's vote?

Five people were killed in the militia attacks at the weekend and large numbers of people here are too frightened to return to their villages to vote.

The sad irony is that Ituri, the province where Geti is situated, has one of the highest levels of voter registrations in DR Congo.

Today we will spend the night in the Medecins Sans Frontieres compound, my producer and I assigned two folding hospital beds.

Ringing in my ears when I finally hit the sack will the sound of the lullaby three elderly women sang so sweetly to the sleepy children in the camp.

There may be despair at the continuing violence in this part of the world, but for a moment this cluster of people were able to forget.

Joseph Winter, Lubumbashi, Tuesday 25 July: 1615 local time

President Joseph Kabila finally turned up at about 1500 local time.

Katanga Fried Chicken
Mr Kabila walked past Katanga Fried Chiken in Lubumbashi

As he walked down the main road, past Katanga Fried Chiken (sic) to the Place de la Poste, huge crowds lined the streets to cheer him, as he waved back.

He was surrounded by extremely tight security, with riot policemen wearing black body armour keeping the crowds back as he walked past.

Nearer to him were the soldiers, wielding machine-guns.

The Place de la Poste was filled with a few thousand cheering supporters, mostly young men like Mr Kabila but there were also some older people.

Some climbed trees in order to get a better vantage point. Others simply climbed on top of the minibuses they had travelled in.

Gideon, a 27-year-old mineral trader, told me he liked Mr Kabila because he was handsome, before adding that he had brought peace and had been the first Congolese leader to organise multi-party elections.

Gideon, a supporter of President Joseph Kabila
Gideon says he likes Mr Kabila because he is handsome

This was by far the biggest election crowd in Lubumbashi, since the campaign started.

President Kabila gave a short speech in East Africa's Kiswahili language, saying he had come home - his family comes from Katanga province.

Mr Kabila is not normally recognised as being a good public speaker but he seemed to relax in this speech, showing his human side.

For the first time, his new wife, accompanied him on a public engagement and was presented to his "Katangese brothers".

He also promised to repair the road from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa and made two rare public mentions of his father, ex-President Laurent Kabila.

"I promised to reunify the country. Done. I promise to hold elections. Done in five days. That's why I ask you to vote massively for me on Sunday."

Mark Doyle, Lubumbashi, Tuesday 25 July: 1600 local time

It was the little boy's eyes I shall always remember. Driving through the suburbs of this city built on money from Katanga's rich deposits of copper and cobalt, I came across a group of child miners.

The boy's head popped out of a tunnel in a dangerously unstable slagheap of mine "tailings". The nearby hi-tech mine had rejected the poor quality ore in the slagheap but the little boy and his co-workers - none of whom looked more than 12 to me - were digging a tunnel to scavenge for nuggets of copper ore. These tunnels regularly collapse.

One of the other boys came up to the window of my car. Caked in mine dust and dressed in rags, he said he was 14. He looked no bigger than my eight-year-old son in London, but that doesn't mean he was lying. Many Congolese children are malnourished and small for their age.

The boys amazed me when they said they earned between $10 and $20 a day from the slagheaps. This on a continent where more than half the population earn less than $1 a day.

Again, I don't think they were lying. Katanga has some of the richest subsoil on earth.

Further up the road, I saw dozens more children, among a larger number of adults, digging for copper ore at a more formal, organised mine: a moonscape of holes and shadowy figures half hidden by the toxic dust which swirled around.

Most people were scrabbling in the earth with their bare hands. Some had shovels. The security guards had AK-47s.

I will never forget the boy-in-the-hole's eyes.

His face was filthy with mud and ore. But as his head popped out of that potential deathtrap, he spotted me sitting in my comfortable car and stared hard, with bright, questioning eyes.

Arnaud Zajtman, Kinshasa, Tuesday 25 July: 1600 local time

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Kinshasa this afternoon to protest against elections being held on Sunday.

People pull down a poster of Mr Kabila in Kinshasa
Opposition supporters destroyed posters of Mr Kabila in Kinshasa

There was tension and fighting. Anti-riot units of the police arrived and the demonstrators threw stones at them. The police answered with tear gas.

It was only when another group of security forces came that the situation changed. Soldiers of the presidential guard arrived with real weapons and people began to scatter.

One presidential guard wanted to show the stupid people who the boss was.

Meanwhile, a student demonstrator blamed the government for high school fees and spoke of his suffering under President Kabila.

There were no official casualties but one policeman was hit by a stone and his head was bleeding.

The security forces also arrested some people and I saw at least one demonstrator being beaten.

Joseph Winter, Lubumbashi, Tuesday 25 July: 1400 local time

The Place de la Poste, the big meeting point in the town centre, is now full of people wearing President Joseph Kabila caps, T-shirts, scarves and cloths, ahead of his campaign rally later on - even I've been given one.

It has been filling up all day - he had been expected in the morning. But huge speakers blaring out lively Congolese dance music have kept the people entertained.

Opposition supporters hold a dog wearing a Kabila T-shirt
Campaign rallies are happening in Kinshasa and across the country
Although it is as not hot as Kinshasa (or London) the sun is beating down - I saw a group of riot policemen cooling down with some ice-creams, while still wearing their helmets. Unfortunately, they did not want their photo taken.

There is a small group of opposition supporters around the corner but they are heavily outnumbered.

This morning I visited the local hospital. The new director there told me that he had inherited a complete mess when he took over last year.

Doctors and nurses were selling drugs to patients, as salaries had not been paid in years.

All the equipment - even beds - had been stolen or broken. The rooms were full of pieces of broken equipment, although they have managed to fix some.

It is inspiring to see how hard the staff work there, in such tough conditions. The hospital is now in a much better state than it was and some payments are now being made to the staff.

But a lot still needs to be done. I wonder if Congo's economic fortunes can also be turned round?

I can hear sirens in the background. It sounds like Kabila. I have to go.

Felin Gakwaya, Goma, Tuesday 25 July: 1300 local time

Convoys, sometimes of 10 cars or more, prowl the streets in search of election converts.

Loudspeakers shout out messages from the roofs of these hired trucks. Their owners are busy answering questions and explaining what they will do for the town to hundreds of chanting fans.

Bikes in Goma

The scope of the campaign is not surprising given that 114 candidates are competing for only four places to represent the town as MPs.

At the moment, Kambale Kalimbalo appears to have the largest number of supporters out on the streets.

However, there is only one real vote winner in Goma, and its impact has yet to be felt.

Two weeks ago President Kabila came here and promised that he would send the town two electricity generators, which would follow him from Kinshasa.

These would be able to convert the low levels of water in Lake Kivu and the nearby Rusizi River into electricity for the town.

However, they were due to arrive today and so far there is no sign of them.

According to my source, Mr Mwetu Tuikale, Director of SNEL or the National Society for Electricity, the generators are held up in Butembo, a town about 280km from Goma, awaiting transportation.

They are unlikely to arrive in time.

Hassan Arouni, Kinshasa, Tuesday 25 July: 0800 local time

Although you don't see the candidates themselves here in Kinshasa, you see their faces everywhere you go. Banners and posters splashed across walls provide a new dress for the city.

Among the many candidates, Pierre Jacques Chalupa sticks out as the only white face.

Posters in Kinshasa

His mother was originally from Greece and came to DR Congo during the war in Europe. His father, however, was born here, in Boma, before even the Belgians came to the country.

As a result, says Mr Chalupa, he feels good. His slogan, 'Pourquoi pas' asks 'Why shouldn't he?'

It arose after he was subjected to some racist taunts several months ago.

Some Congolese, he says, would spot him in town and tell him to go back to his own country, that he wasn't needed in theirs. But, he says, he chose to ignore them and continue his campaign. Why not?

After all he was born here and his family's been here for a very long time. So why not, indeed?

And what does it say that since then, his compatriots have begun referring to all Europeans by the nickname, affectionate or otherwise, of "Pourquoi pas?"

Arnaud Zajtman, Kinshasa, Tuesday 25 July: 0900 local time

My landlord is a candidate for the elections

I've been living in Kinshasa for a few years and since last week, my landlord keeps calling me. All of a sudden I'm his best friend. I don't think I have been a bad tenant, but we weren't friends.

Of course, during the recent war, warlords or Mai Mai militia leaders would show up to my place to be interviewed at odd hours.

People look for their names on a voters' list
DR Congo is preparing for its first democratic elections in 40 years
Also, once, during a heavy riot, demonstrators saw me watching the riot from the balcony and tried to storm the flat. But that was over two years ago, and the landlord did not make an issue of it.

You know how landlords are: as long as you pay your rent on time, they are fine. But this does not necessarily make them your friend, right?

On the top of that, I suddenly remember that once my landlord wanted to get rid of me. Well, it wasn't just me. It was all the other tenants as well. This was because more and more expats working for the UN were moving here and prices of rents began to rise steeply.

The landlord wanted to increase the rent but the contract did not allow him to do so. So he told us we were all bad tenants, gave us three months' notice, cancelled all the contracts, increased the rent, and finally decided we were good tenants and gave us new ones.

But now my landlord is one of 9,600 candidates contesting only 500 seats. And he wants coverage. Hey, this is why he now says I'm his friend!

Do you think I should cover him? I don't think there is a good editorial reason to do so, and as a journalist, I'm a bit uncomfortable with that, so I've decided not to cover him.

I don't think my landlord is able to grasp that so he will probably be disappointed, and perhaps even angry at me. The election is on 30 July. The next day is the day I'm supposed to pay my rent. I had better remember.

Many inhabitants here distrust the elections, especially the 33 candidates for the presidential election. But with so many candidates for the Parliament elections, many people have one in their circle.

They don't want to miss the opportunity to be represented in Parliament by someone they trust and therefore they adhere to the process.

But most people are probably lucky enough not to be journalists with a landlord as a candidate.


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