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Congo Goes for Second Round of Polls

President Joseph Kabila failed to win an outright majority in Congo's historic elections, setting up a runoff with a former rebel leader, election officials said.

Even as the results became public on Sunday, securityforce loyalists of Kabila and his second-round rival, Jean- Pierre Bemba, fought gunbattles that left at least one soldier dead _ a grim backdrop for another round of campaigning.

With 16.9 million votes cast in the July 30 ballot, Kabila won 45 percent of the votes against Jean-Pierre Bemba's 20 percent, said Electoral Commission Chairman Apollinaire Malu Malu.

The remainder of the votes cast were shared among 31 other candidates who did not make it through to the second and final round, he said. Turnout was about 70 percent. A second round will be held on Oct. 29, electoral commission spokesman Desire Molekela said. 

Congo's first elections in over four decades are meant to select a legitimate leader to knit together the country's 58 million people and end the years of corrupt rule and war that have roiled this vast nation and wider Central Africa.

U.N. Secretery-General Kofi Annan, whose 17,500 peacekeeping troops are guarding the country and helping oversee the voting process, hailed the elections. 

``These elections were a historic milestone in the peace process in the country,'' Annan said in a statement. He said he ``urges the Congolese parties and candidates to abide by the electoral law in the resolution of any disputes related to the electoral process,'' calling on them ``to accept and respect the final results of the elections, in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.''

In the capital, Kinshasa, gunfire sounded for hours outside the Electoral Commission offices. Witnesses said the fight between Kabila's special presidential guards and government troops still loyal to Bemba sparked after members of the forces crossed paths and exchanged words.

But members of Bemba's party said they were attacked. Sporadic fighting continued even after the results were broadcast on national television, with tracer fire arcing over the battered, teeming city.

Kemal Saiki, a spokesman for the 17,500-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo, said at least one soldier loyal to Bemba died. A receptionist at a Kinshasa Hospital said two Pakistanis were being treated for gunshot wounds after being caught in the crossfire Sunday.

Kabila, the 35-year-old President who helped end Congo's 1996-2002 war as leader of the transitional government, has so far drawn his greatest support in the East, where he was born. The president appeared on television late Sunday to thank voters and call for calm after the evening's violence. ``It's a great victory,'' Kabila said of the results.

Representatives for Bemba, who led a rebel faction in Congo's wars and is now a vice president in the nationalunity government, said the candidate's support was strong enough to overcome alleged vote-tampering. ``Kabila's party tampered with ballots and increased Kabila's score in the east. But despite the irregularities, they could not win the vote,'' said Dully Sesanga, spokesman for Bemba's party. Bemba has polled strongly in the overcrowded capital, Kinshasa.

Another candidate, Antoine Gizenga, received 13 percent of the vote. Bemba and another top candidate among 33 standing in the race, Azarias Ruberwa, have both alleged fraud in the July 30 vote and said they may contest the results. Nineteen lesser candidates have banded together to announce a rerun of the vote.

Molekela said political parties could now submit their complaints to the Supreme Court, which will pronounce the final election results before Aug. 31. International observers have identified some irregularities in the run-up to the vote and on balloting day, but many groups say they saw nothing to call into question the results' validity. Six electoral workers were arrested for vote tampering while working on the vote count in the election, which cost the United Nations almost US$500 million (euro390.6 million).

U.N. officials have called for calm in recent days and Congo's media regulatory body banned three channels from the airwaves for airing images it ruled were meant to incite the Congolese.

Under the deals to end Congo's wars, ex-rebel fighters were able to join the security forces, but many retain loyalty to their former leaders. Kabila's red beret-wearing presidential security forces have in the past battled members of the military drawn from Bemba's insurgent forces. 

The mineral-rich Central African nation as large as all Western Europe has been roiled by war and corrupt rule since winning independence from Belgium in 1960. Congo's last multiparty vote for a leader was in 1961. The winner was killed as military regimes took power.


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