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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 July 2006, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Polls close in Congo's elections
Ballot box being emptied in Kinshasa
The UN says voting on the whole went smoothly
Polls have closed in national elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo - the first multi-party vote in 40 years.

The elections were aimed at ending a long civil war, with 32 candidates, including incumbent Joseph Kabila, contesting the presidency.

More than 9,000 candidates were running for parliament and some 25m voters, were protected by the biggest UN peacekeeping operation in the world.

Counting is already under way, but full results are not expected for weeks.

'Historic moment'

Voting started at 0600 local time (0500 GMT in the west of the country and 0400 in the east), though correspondents said polling stations opened up to an hour late in some places.

DR CONGO POLLS
Congolese voters show their voting cards to a police officer at a polling station in Kinshasa, DR Congo
32 presidential candidates
9,709 parliamentary candidates
25.6m voters
50,000 polling stations
260,000 electoral staff

A spokesman for the United Nations said the election had gone smoothly although there were technical difficulties in some places, such as voting material not being in place, or inaccurate voters' lists.

Many people walked miles to get to the polling stations, and some queued overnight, waiting for them to open.

The BBC's Joseph Winter, in Kinshasa, said voter turnout at the polling stations he visited had been around 70 percent.

"We are hungry - we want a leader who knows our suffering," voter Christine Tumba told our correspondent as she came out of Notre Dame Cathedral to go to the polling station next door.

"People are dying every day but where is the government?" she said.

Donatien Kalinga said his heart was "full of joy" at the prospect of voting for the first time.

Voters share their views on polling day.

"I hope the Congolese people will now benefit from the riches that the good Lord blessed us with - diamonds, gold, copper," he said.

The capital, where several people died this week, was calm throughout the day.

Police drove around the streets of Kinshasa and UN peacekeepers were stationed at strategic points.

The BBC's Karen Allen, in eastern DR Congo, says UN peacekeepers in armoured vehicles and trucks were stationed outside polling stations in riot gear in case violence broke out.

Eleven voting stations were damaged in the south-eastern Kasai region, the independent electoral commission was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Three people were hurt in the central town of Mbuyi-Maji - stronghold to opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, whose party is boycotting the vote - when a petrol bomb was thrown at a polling station, AFP said.

Serious concerns

On Friday, a soldier loyal to presidential candidate Azarias Ruberwa was killed and two others wounded in a clash with security forces protecting the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, as the two groups met on the way to their respective rallies.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I am worried and frightened. There is no control.
Christophe Lusendi, Kinshasa

The killing echoed an incident on Thursday, when two policemen were killed when troops loyal to candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba opened fire during a pro-Bemba rally.

Correspondents say the incidents highlight the problem of former rebel leaders-turned-presidential candidates, who are still able to muster their own troops.

The most serious concerns about the polling process were in the east, which saw the worst of the conflict in the 1997-2002 civil war and where militia groups remained active until recently.

At least four people were killed and 13 others injured last week during electoral campaigning in North Kivu province, international watchdog group Human Rights Watch reports.

Voters cast their ballots in Kinshasa
There was a steady stream of voters to polling stations

It was only on Wednesday this week that the three main militia groups in the troubled eastern province of Ituri agreed to lay down arms.

The presidential candidates include the four vice-presidents who took office in 2003 in terms of a transitional power-sharing deal.

Three of the four vice-presidents are the leaders of former armed factions.

Some opposition candidates accuse Mr Kabila of being backed by the international community, and are already unofficially complaining about what they say are irregularities in the voting, the BBC's Mark Doyle reports.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See people taking part in the historic DR Congo polls



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