Incumbent declared winner of presidential election in Congo

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 15, 2006 

NAIROBI, Kenya—Incumbent Joseph Kabila was declared the winner Wednesday of Congo's historic presidential election, a vote marred by violent clashes with his chief rival.

Despite challenger Jean-Pierre Bemba's allegations of cheating, Congo's election commission announced that Kabila had prevailed with 58 percent of the vote to 42 percent for Bemba.

Supporters of the rival camps fought street battles over the weekend in the capital, Kinshasa, leaving four people dead and renewing anxieties in the war-ravaged central African country. Clashes in August killed more than two dozen people and put thousands of international troops stationed in the country on high alert.

Bemba's campaign immediately vowed to challenge the result, which must be upheld by the country's Supreme Court. But despite scattered reports of Election Day irregularities, several international monitoring groups have signed off on the Oct. 29 vote, the climax to Congo's first democratic campaign in more than 40 years.

"I hope the protagonists will accept the results and play by the rules," United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at a conference on climate change in Nairobi, Kenya.

The United Nations has deployed its largest peacekeeping mission in the world to Congo—nearly 18,000 troops. It has called the election the most important in Africa in more than a decade. Congo has barely begun to recover from a four-year civil war that's blamed for the deaths of some 4 million people and has reduced the mineral-rich country to one of the world's poorest.

Analysts say stability in central Africa hinges on whether Congo, with its array of ex-warlords and massive development challenges, can build on these $500-million-plus elections, the most expensive ever financed by the international community.

Kabila, 35, who succeeded his slain father as president in 2001, is credited with steering Congo through the 2003 peace agreement that ended the war and paved the way for the elections. He enjoys strong support in the vast country's remote east, where the conflict was based.

But he's distrusted in Kinshasa and much of western Congo, where people regard his upbringing in neighboring Tanzania with skepticism and say his tenure has brought little improvement to their lives. There are few jobs, most people survive on less than $1 a day and tens of thousands of children live on the streets of Kinshasa, cast out by their families because of poverty or superstition.

Still, hopes for the election ran high. Seventy percent of the country's 25 million registered voters turned out for July's first-round election and 66 percent for the runoff.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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