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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 July 2006, 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
Congo election reporters' log: Sunday
People queue to vote

Voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo are casting their ballots in 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, Kinshasa, Sunday 30 July: 2130 local time

Election officials have started counting the votes from DR Congo's landmark polls in the hot, sweaty, mosquito-infested schools of Yolo North, in western Kinshasa.

Officials counting votes in Yolo North, western Kinshasa
Voter turnout in the area was said to be 70%

The lucky ones have lights in the classrooms - others have to make do with battery-powered lamps.

Some are counting on the floor, others on wooden tables.

They first scrupulously tallied up the total numbers of voters and made sure that this was the same as the number of ballot papers used.

In one polling station, there was a discrepancy of just one out of 255, leading to a long delay but no one made a fuss - they just carried on counting and recounting until they got it right.

And these officials - mostly a mixture of teachers and students - had often had nothing to eat all day.

Earlier, as voting drew to a sleepy close after a brisk start in the morning, they were complaining bitterly, but then the adrenalin of counting took over.

Some were also unhappy that they had not yet been paid.

But despite the tough conditions they have endured, I do not think they would be popular if they went on strike.

Voters relax at outside bars
Some voters say they have little confidence in their politicians

Despite appearing apathetic until late in the campaign, most "Kinois", as Kinshasa residents are known, did seem enthusiastic on election day. Turn-out was about 70% in the polling stations I visited.

From the afternoon and then into the night, many Kinois were relaxing in the "terraces" - open-air bars where beer and grilled meat are served against a background of Congo's famous Ndombolo dance music.

"I don't have much confidence in any of the candidates but I voted for the least bad," one man told me over his bottle of Congo's famous Primus beer.

Mark Doyle, Kinshasa, Sunday 30 July: 1300 local time

At this polling station in central Kinshasa, some voters are angry, but it's only frustration about their place in the queue.

Everyone I've met so far is happy to be exercising their civic duty.

One man came out of the polling booth literally dancing: "I've voted," he shouted, holding his arms high and spinning around, "I've voted."

At this polling station, the electorate has a choice between 885 candidates.

The ballot paper is in fact six poster-sized sheets with photos of every single candidate.

At one polling booth, voters have had trouble folding this monster document and squeezing it into the ballot box, which is already completely full.

Luckily, here, there are more boxes at the ready.

Said Penda, Lubumbashi, Sunday 30 July: 1230 local time

There has been a massive turn-out of voters at polling stations in Lubumbashi.

It's quiet in the city now, though earlier there was a protest by several hundred people.

They had registered to vote elsewhere, and were now demanding that they be allowed to cast their votes in Lubumbashi.

Police and UN peacekeepers arrived quickly, and there was no violence.

Joseph Winter, Kinshasa, Sunday 30 July: 1100 local time

Polls were supposed to open at 0600, as church bells rang, cocks crowed and birds sang their dawn chorus.

Polls finally opened an hour late but people didn't seem too upset. There weren't many people around so there was no agitation.

There's been a slow steady stream of voters - not a thronging mass of people waiting for polls to open as we've seen in other historical elections like in South Africa and Liberia.

Police are putting on a show of force, driving around teargas canisters, and loudspeakers on their vehicles.

UN peacekeepers are on guard in strategic parts of town. But there are no reports of trouble here in Kinshasa.

Karen Allen, Aveba, Sunday 30 July: 1030 local time

Here in Aveba, in a part of eastern Congo which has seen the most bloodshed in recent years, a mass of humanity surrounds a cluster of polling stations.

There are literally thousands of people - men and women, their children at their side, come to have a stake in their country's future.

Many have walked many many miles, barefoot - some from the vast camps that house displaced people who fled their homes after rebel and army attacks.

So the security presence here is tight. UN armoured vehicles are all around and in the hills that surround us, UN marksmen patrol.

Noel Mwakugu, Kisangani, Sunday 30 July: 1030 local time

I have been visiting polling stations in the outskirts of Kisangani and most of them started operating at exactly 0600.

In some stations people started queuing up before day break and withstood mosquito bites as they waited for polling officials to signal them into the centres to vote.

Women and old people walked into many of the polling stations with stools and chairs ready for a long wait, but they happily told me that today the Independent Electoral Commission was sensitive to their plight since it has added more streams in a polling centre, during the referendum last year they had only two at a centre, that the reason today they came prepared and luckily there were an average of eight at the stations I visited

One old man I found in Kabondo polling centre south of Kisangani city, Papa Nuru, told me this is not only history to DR Congo but also in his life.

The last time he voted an armed police man stood by him with a gun and forced him to vote for Mobutu Sese Seko, a man he is happy not to talk about today.

The young men too have come in big numbers to vote - some who had voted by 0800 were sitting just yards away from the polling station cracking jokes and, as expected, listening to Congolese music.

Peace has prevailed most of the morning but last night, I am told, a chief in Mangobo suburb north of the city, was shot dead as he tried to rescue his neighbour who was being attacked by thugs.

People there are poor and burglary is a normal affair, but this incident is causing some tension.

And even as some people head to the main Catholic Cathedral for prayers, this Sunday morning after voting, they will still be asking God to hold the peace that has prevailed this morning during and after the counting of votes.

That is when trouble is expected. Most of the polling centres are expected to close at 1800.

Karen Allen, Bunia, Sunday 30 July: 0700 local time

Here in Bunia, in the north-east of the country, one of the main polling stations in the town is thronging with people, men and women, young and old, waiting patiently to vote.

Many have walked for many miles. Security is tight.

UN peacekeepers in armoured vehicles and trucks are stationed outside polling stations in riot gear should violence break out.




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