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Kabila leads race for Congo presidency

Monuc/Sappa-AFP - August 14, 2006 10:18 AM

Kinshasa - Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila appeared on track to be returned to power, according to partial results from the country's presidential election compiled by AFP on Sunday.

Kabila was credited with 51,6 percent of votes counted so far from the July 30 election. But since they only represent 66 of the country's 169 voting districts, the people of the DRC still have a long wait until they know who will be their next president.

Two weeks after the historic presidential and parliamentary elections, the central African country's first multi-party ballots in 46 years, Kabila's main rival, vice president and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, garnered 19,3 percent of the votes, up on the 17,8 percent announced on Saturday when Kabila had been credited with 55 percent.

No figures were available from the capital, Kinshasa, where Kabila is not popular. Kinshasa represents 12 percent of the electorate.

Final results from big eastern cities like Kisangani, Bukavu and Lubumbashi where Kabila has so far scored up to around 80 percent, were also not known.

But according to the partial results, eastern regions generally plumped for Kabila, while the west of the vast country voted for Bemba who was born there.

Voter turnout in the 66 districts from where results were available was about 75 percent.

"It would appear difficult for Bemba to get in front of Kabila," said one diplomat here, adding that the son of assassinated president Laurent Kabila could expect to benefit from a "huge reservoir" of uncounted votes.

"The real question is whether he can win in the first round."

But another diplomat warned that there was a risk of outbreaks of violence in the capital by supporters of the losing candidates if there was no second round.

On Saturday night the country's religious leaders appealed for calm, a plea which was repeated during church services on Sunday.

Fifteen presidential candidates who so far scored poorly have already denounced "flagrant irregularities" during the vote.

They may have recourse to the country's highest court which is to announce final results by August 31.

The presidential election will go to a second round on October 29 unless Kabila or one of his 32 challengers wins 50 percent or more of votes cast in the first round.

At just 35 years of age, Kabila is Africa's youngest head of state and few thought he would survive his time in office following the violent turmoil of the country's recent past and the murder of his father in 2001.

The elections last month aimed to complete the three-year period of political transition that followed the DRC's five-year civil war.

The conflict claimed nearly four million lives.

Overall election results from the country's central electoral commission are due by August 20.

Vote counting is slow in the war-ravaged DRC, which is the size of western Europe but has practically no hard roads and little other infrastructure to transport ballot papers.

Voting slips from the country's 50 000 polling stations are in some cases being centralised by bicycle, boat or on people's heads. - Sapa-AFP

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