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Kabila Ahead in DRCongo Vote Amid Appeals for Calm


(Additional reporting from Kinshasa provided by Eddy Isango.)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, transitional President Joseph Kabila is in the lead in early vote-counting, but election officials insist this should not lead to any projections. Former African leaders have appealed to Mr. Kabila and his opponent, former rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba, to avoid violence during and after the release of results from last week's presidential election.

Congo's election commission has released results from six provinces on its official Web site. The results include about five percent of overall voter rolls.

Mr. Kabila has nearly 69 percent of the votes counted, to Bemba's 31 percent. Reflecting a pattern from the first round of voting earlier this year, Mr. Kabila is doing very well in the east, while his opponent is dominating in the west.

But officials from the election commission say these are only provisional partial results that should not lead to any speculation or projection.

The government's media authority has prevented Congolese media from announcing their own results. It has also banned certain media commentators from airwaves for persistently proclaiming their own tallies.

First-round results putting Mr. Kabila into the second round against transitional Vice President Bemba led to deadly clashes between their rival security guards in August.

Former African leaders met Saturday with the two candidates separately, pleading with them to accept results.

Former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar said he was encouraged by their response. "I am happy speaking with both the president and the vice [president], and speaking to both of them [they said], they will accept the results, when eventually it is proclaimed," he said. "That is why we are here. We got [assurances] they will accept the results."

Former Burundi President Pierre Buyoya says he is very happy as well with this effort. He says the former African leaders also conveyed the message that both candidates must rein in their supporters.

International observers said voting seemed generally free and fair, but that a climate of intimidation led to an absence of actual campaigning by both candidates. Voting was disrupted in several areas by violence, leading to two re-votes last week, while the Congolese army arrested four of its soldiers for putting up barricades and beating up civilians on voting day in the eastern Ituri region.

The slow release of results also coincides with new reports of clashes between Congo's army and an ethnic-Hutu based rebel movement, near the border with Rwanda.

More than 18,000 U.N and European troops are spread out throughout the vast mineral rich Congo. The elections are viewed by the international community as key to restoring stability, and helping development throughout the Great Lakes region.

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