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DRC Campaigning Ends Amid Tensions, Security Challenges


Campaigning is ending in the Democratic Republic of Congo, amid tensions before Sunday's post-war election. It is the first open ballot in the country since just after independence in 1960.

Police sifted through a ransacked church, which was looted Thursday by militants of one of the main presidential candidates, former rebel leader and current vice president in the power-sharing peace-brokered government Jean-Pierre Bemba.

His supporters said they had found blank ballots in the church, which they said were aimed at rigging the vote in favor of President Joseph Kabila. He has been in power since 2001, after his father, a former rebel leader who had seized the presidency, was assassinated.

The head of the electoral commission, Apollinaire Malu Malu, dismissed such allegations as completely false.

He said there remain "dangerous prophets of doom," who are mercenaries within their own country.

He says they should not try to undermine all the efforts, both national and international, put into Congo's elections.

Several other offices and headquarters were burned or looted Thursday in Kinshasa, during a Bemba rally, by protesters who saw them as representing interests favoring Mr. Kabila.

Bemba said this was the work of undisciplined youths not associated with his campaign.

A more disciplined rally took place Friday in support of Mr. Kabila at a park in Kinshasa. His presidential guard provided some of the security.

This woman said she was for Mr. Kabila, because, she said, he had brought peace and elections.

Kabila supporters, wearing his campaign's trademark yellow, have often been targeted by angry opponents during the campaign, but she said she was not afraid. She said she is sure he will win.

Mr. Kabila and Bemba are among a slate of more than 30 candidates, including another former rebel leader, Azarias Ruberwa, and two strong civilian challengers, Pierre Pay Pay and Oscar Kashala. A candidate will need more than 50 percent of the vote for a first round victory.

A one-round legislative election for a new parliament will also take place.

More than 70,000 newly trained police will take the lead role in enforcing security, with some anti-vote militants threatening sit-ins, and many armed groups still not reintegrated into the army.

As more than 17,000 U.N troops prepare to help, the deputy head of mission of the world's largest peacekeeping mission, Ross Mountain, stressed it will not be easy.

"This is a huge country, with a massive population and an enormous range of regional rivalries," he said. "It would be strange, if there were no incidents. We have been frankly delighted how limited the number of incidents there have been in the course of the last month of the campaign. We are obviously making stand-by contingencies in relation to various areas of the country that, perhaps, might be more likely difficult than others, but we are very pleased with the way the progress is going."

Mountain also noted that, just four years ago, many of the main contenders for the presidency were leaders of armed groups killing each other's followers by the hundreds.

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