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Last Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006, 22:38 GMT 23:38 UK
Kabila rally ends Congo campaign
Poster of Joseph Kabila
Kabila's Kinshasa rally will conclude his campaign
President Joseph Kabila has addressed a crowd of thousands at a final election rally in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Campaigning is prohibited on Saturday and voting is due to start on Sunday.

The elections will be DR Congo's first democratic polls in more than 40 years, and are the culmination of a process aimed at ending a long civil war.

Armed opposition supporters clashed with government security forces on Thursday, and reportedly on Friday.

On Friday, crowds gathered at Kinshasa airport and lined the road into the city as Mr Kabila arrived and made his way towards the stadium.

The mood was that of a visit by a head of state rather than by an election candidate, the BBC's Arnaud Zajtman reports.

DR CONGO POLLS
33 presidential candidates
9,707 parliamentary candidates
25.6m voters

Mr Kabila's arrival was more orderly, but also less well-attended, than was the case when opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba arrived in the city on Thursday.

Security forces, including anti-riot police and the presidential guard were deployed along the way, as Mr Kabila's route to the stadium took him through opposition stronghold districts.

An official in the RCD, the party of presidential candidate Azarias Ruberwa, told the BBC that a soldier in Mr Ruberwa's entourage had been killed and two others wounded in a clash with Mr Kabila's security forces as the two groups met on the way to their respective rallies.

Correspondents say the incident, as well as Thursday's clash between Mr Bemba's troops and the police, highlights the problem of former rebel leaders-turned-presidential candidates, who are still able to muster their own troops.

Test of democracy

An estimated 10,000 people gathered at the stadium in Kinshasa to hear Mr Kabila speak.

"We want to turn the page," Mr Kabila said. "We want elections in calm, peace and discipline."

HAVE YOUR SAY
The only problem with the Congo is that, there is no true opposition since Tshisekedi is not running
Nathan, Texas, USA

He said he had brought stability to the country since taking power and urged his audience to "vote for the consolidation of peace and for the advancement of our reconstruction".

There was also lively campaigning in the southern city of Lubumbashi on Friday, with party supporters carrying placards and playing Congolese dance music through loudspeakers.

According to the BBC's Mark Doyle, the elections in DR Congo are probably the most important test of post-conflict democracy Africa has ever seen.

Never before has there been a real attempt at holding a poll in such a vast country awash with guns, he says.

Deaths

At least four people were killed in Kinshasa on Thursday: two babies who died when Mr Bemba's bodyguards' compound was set alight, and two police who died in clashes with Mr Bemba's supporters.

UN envoy Ross Mountain expressed confidence that the polls would be a success.

He said that while Thursday's deaths were tragic, the Bemba rally had not sparked a major confrontation.

"The security forces played a proper, professional role," he told reporters in Kinshasa on Friday.

"We were tested I think yesterday, and I believe the Congolese authorities and the Congolese leaders came through that test."

In the east of the country, the leader of South Africa's observer mission, Minister Mlueki George, has expressed concern that police had not yet received riot gear for crowd control nor motor vehicles in the volatile North Kivu province.

Over 25m voters are registered for the presidential and parliamentary vote.

The United Nations has about 17,000 soldiers - its biggest peacekeeping mission in the world - deployed to ensure order.

Before the violence in the capital, one of the last obstacles to Sunday's election was removed on Wednesday when the three main militia groups in the troubled eastern province of Ituri agreed to lay down arms.






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