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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Congo election reporters' log: Thursday
Children sit on a wall covered with election posters

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:

Joseph Winter, Lubumbashi, Thursday 27 July: 2117 local time

While many Congolese see Vice-President Azarias Ruberwa as a stooge of neighbouring Rwanda, which backed his RCD rebel group during the five-year conflict, he took pains to emphasise his links to Katanga during his campaign speech in the regional capital, Lubumbashi.

Supporters of Azarias Ruberwa rally in Lubumbashi

He got a great cheer from the crowd when he presented his wife, saying they had got married just down the road.

In this he was trying to steal the thunder from President Joseph Kabila, who also presented himself as a son of Katanga, when he made his own speech from the same place two days earlier.

Mr Ruberwa's central message was that Congo's problems were the result of poor leadership since independence.

"This country should not be led by adventurers, jokers and thieves," he said.

He later told journalists that the Kabila government was as bad as that of former leader Mobutu Sese Seko.

He reminded the crowd, mostly students, of all the mineral wealth under their feet, while most of them live in poverty.

Azarias Ruberwa in Lubumbashi
Mr Ruberwa was keen to emphasise his local credentials

He said he was the best-qualified leader in the presidential contest - indirectly comparing himself to Mr Kabila, who has few educational certificates.

He said he had a plan for the future, saying he would build power stations to supply electricity, rather than giving out generators - another swipe at Mr Kabila, seen as the favourite in these elections.

Michael Allison, from Preston in the UK, who asked our panel of Lubumbashi voters whether the environment had been mentioned in the election campaign, will be pleased to know that Mr Ruberwa did indeed cite the virtual extinction of the white rhino - he said there were just two left - as one of the many examples of how Congo has been misgoverned since independence.

However, the evening ended on a slightly sour note, when some of the students who had welcomed Mr Ruberwa earlier in the day burned his photo in the streets, saying they had not been paid for their trouble.

Joseph Winter, Mimbulu, Thursday 27 July: 1615 local time

Drive towards the Zambian border from Lubumbashi and you enter the village of Mimbulu, where election fever is also running high.

Chief Kaponda Lubenge Bwalaya

The flags of different parties have been tied to the mango trees which line the only road through the village, although those of the ruling PPRD dominate.

The local chief, Kaponda Lubenge Bwalaya, is running as an independent candidate and was holding a rally, which had attracted a few hundred people - around a quarter of the population I was told.

Across most of Congo, there is fierce political competition - 32 candidates for the presidency and more than 9,000 for the 500 seats in parliament. But Chief Kaponda has just a single opponent and seems likely to win.

For the presidential elections, he is backing the incumbent, Joseph Kabila.

He says President Kabila has ended the war and organised elections and what is more, his family is from Katanga.

While democracy is only now starting to arrive in Congo, the local head of the opposition RCD party, Mwanza Mwanabute, says he has not been harassed and his party's flag is flying high opposite his house.

I was surprised to learn that Mr Mwanabute had fought for the government against the RCD rebels but is now a paid up member.

He said they had promised to give him a job, although he is still waiting.

One of the two nurses in the village, Vivianne Kabulo Monga, also proudly supports Joseph Kabila, although she denies putting his party's flag in front of the health centre.

She complained that her salary of $11 a month is not enough to live on and she has to grow her own food on her days off.

As I left her, she was cycling 3km on dirt tracks across the bush to another village, where she was vaccinating the local children.

While there is no electricity or running water in Mimbulu, there is coverage for mobile phones.

However, you have to climb to the top of a little hill to pick up the signal - the villagers have cut steps into the side to make the climb easier.

Arnaud Zajtman, Kinshasa, Thursday 27 July: 1600 local time

There was a riot at a stadium where Jean-Pierre Bemba, MLC presidential candidate and a vice-president in the transitional government, was due to speak. The anti-riot police were out, but soldiers loyal to Bemba were defending the crowd, shooting heavily with Kalashnikovs in the direction of the anti-riot squad.

Jean-Pierre Bemba and supporters
Thousands were on the streets to welcome Jean-Pierre Bemba
Bemba's soldiers were also armed with rocket-propelled grenades.

The stadium has a capacity of 40,000 to 60,000 and it was packed with people waiting to hear Bemba speak.

Bemba returned to Kinshasa this afternoon. Tens of thousands of people were waiting for him along the road between the airport and the city. On the way from the airport it was getting messy - the police used teargas to bring back order.

So Bemba's supporters say they have not been allowed to welcome him.

The police are angry because they say that because of the soldiers, they can't disperse the crowd.

The compound where Jean-Pierre Bemba's militia live was set on fire, we don't know by whom. But this appeared to be in retaliation for the burning of the church of Sony Kafouta, a popular preacher who is seen as close to the government.

Orla Guerin, Goma, Thursday 27 July: 0915 local time

We went to a camp on the border between the DRC and Rwanda for demobilised soldiers on their way home.

We met a handful of Hutu men who had been fighting with the FDLR, a Rwandan militia embedded in Congo. They told us they fled Rwanda after the genocide and were recruited here by the FDLR.

Milita members in Bunia queue at demobilisation centre
Some militia members have surrendered
They were poorly dressed and seemed anxious. The youngest was 17, the oldest 34.

They said conditions in the bush had been hard and they had been paid only $10 last year.

All of the men said they had sneaked away from their units without permission, either in the dead of night or in the early morning.

Their commanders were still in the bush, they said, ready to carry on fighting.

UN officials told us about half the FDLR were still lurking in the forest - about 8,000 men.




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