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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Fighting mars DR Congo's landmark poll
By Joseph Winter
BBC News

Presidential guard with RPG launcher
Mortars have been fired, as well as light arms
The relief which greeted the peaceful nature of the Democratic Republic of Congo's historic elections last month is now turning to despair after three days of gun battles on the streets of the capital, Kinshasa.

On election day, millions of people queued patiently to cast their ballots and help chose their leader for the first time in more than 40 years.

But now it seems that the two remaining candidates, who are set to contest a run-off in October, may be resorting to the power of the bullet, rather than the ballot.

UN spokesman in DR Congo Kemal Saiki said it was too early to say whether the fighting called into question the second round of the elections.

"The fighting could be contained, or it could expand," he said.

Supporters of both President Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba each accuse the other camp of starting the fighting, but neither side shows any sign of calling a halt.

Pressure

This violence is exactly what had been feared, as former rivals from a five-year war contested elections.

The world's largest UN peacekeeping force has been trying to help the former combatants disarm and form a unified army.

UN armoured vehicles patrol the streets of Kinshasa
UN peacekeepers are being backed up by extra EU troops
But Mr Bemba retains his own personal security force of several thousand men, while the presidential guard is widely seen as Mr Kabila's personal militia.

The European Union is sending extra troops to Kinshasa to back up the 17,000 UN peacekeepers.

Strong international pressure will also be brought to bear on both men to try and stop the fighting and rescue the peace process.

Just days ago, some observers were hoping that the inconclusive results of the election, with no candidate gaining the 50% needed for victory, would give their supporters time to cool down before the second round.

This latest fighting suggests that pacifying tempers will not be so easily done.

Alliances

The official results of the elections confirm a strong regional division - no great surprise in a country almost as big as the whole of Western Europe.

In eastern DR Congo, incumbent President Joseph Kabila gained a landslide victory - for example, 97% of the vote in the town of Bukavu.

In the west, however, former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba won most votes - 51% in the capital, Kinshasa, compared to only 17% for Mr Kabila.

DR CONGO RESULTS BY PROVINCE
MAP
NATIONALLY:
Joseph Kabila: 45%
Jean-Pierre Bemba: 20%
Antoine Gizenga: 13%
Nzanga Mobutu: 5%
Oscar Kashala: 4%
Turnout: 70%
Source: CEI

In theory, a run-off means the two remaining candidates will have to try to broaden their appeal beyond their core supporters - no bad thing in such a vast, fractured country trying to put an end to years of conflict.

"It's going to force both men to build alliances," said Caty Clement, the Central Africa project director at the International Crisis Group think-tank.

"If we end up with two big blocks opposing each other, that's the idea behind democracy."

Assuming the second round goes ahead, Mr Kabila will start as favourite, after gaining 45% of the vote, compared to Mr Bemba's 20%.

In eastern DR Congo, where most of the fighting took place in the five-year war, he is credited with ending the worst of the conflict.

His family has its roots in this Swahili-speaking region, further boosting his local appeal.

Mr Bemba, by contrast, is associated as a former rebel leader with the worst atrocities of the conflict. Easterners are quick to bring up the allegations of cannibalism and other war crimes made against his forces.

Dirty campaign

However, westerners, who use Lingala as their lingua franca, have long dominated DR Congo and they have come together behind Mr Bemba.

It is quite possible that an anti-Kabila alliance could be formed.

President Joseph Kabila and his nearest rival Jean-Pierre Bemba
Neither Joseph Kabila (l) nor Jean-Pierre Bemba (r) has called a halt to the fighting
Ask Kinshasa residents why they support Mr Bemba and their first answer is usually simple: "He is Congolese."

Mr Kabila grew up in Tanzania, while his father, the late President Laurent Kabila, was trying to mobilise support against former leader Mobutu Sese Seko.

Some supporters of Mr Bemba even question whether Joseph Kabila is really Laurent Kabila's son.

With such strong nationalistic feelings running high, a peaceful second round is still not a certainty.

There will no doubt be some more equally dirty campaigning ahead before DR Congo finally gets its first popularly elected leader in 40 years.

And then he can finally begin the daunting task of rebuilding a country where nearly everything has to be done from scratch after years of conflict and gross mismanagement.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The candidates who will feature in the run-off



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