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Many Congolese Contesting Upcoming Election


More and more Congolese are expressing concern about the fairness of the country's upcoming election, scheduled for Sunday. Those worried include candidates, youth militants, militias and Catholic bishops. Major protests are being planned for Tuesday against the election.

Convoys for President Joseph Kabila passed through the capital Monday, urging citizens to get out and vote on July 30, in the country's first open elections in more than four decades.

But many believe the poll is not taking place on a level playing field, such as Serge Massaka, a youth leader for a political party boycotting the process, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the UDPS. "We want good elections. You must know that UDPS asked that we organize consultations and in these consultations we would speak about all irregularities which are contained in the electoral process. But we are sorry to realize that until today nothing is organized like this. The UDPS decided to continue with all movements so that in Congo we have good elections. Because UDPS wants good elections but not elections only," he said.

At least two marches are being planned for Tuesday in Kinshasa, while sit-ins at polling centers are being prepared for voting day. Those against the election accuse Mr. Kabila, son of slain coup leader Laurent Desire Kabila, of using state money, election appointments, media and contacts abroad to win the vote.

Monday, there were reports of a brief altercation in central Kinshasa between police and some anti-vote militants, while on Sunday demonstrators clashed with police during a rally by President Kabila in a southern mining town.

This came as Catholic bishops read out a letter in churches saying there should be a boycott of the election if irregularities are not clearly addressed.

These include the disappearance of over one million names from voter lists. Election authorities say there have been and will be logistical difficulties, but that they are doing the best they can to ensure a free and fair vote.

Meanwhile, a militia leader based for decades in Angola, Kapend Elie Kanpimbu, told VOA he is bringing his troops back to Congo to make sure the vote will be fair. "The troops are here in Congo just this week and there's more since Monday. We have military which came back in Congo and the movement is in continuation," he said.

He said his group, known as the Tigers and formerly based in and around the southern diamond-rich Katanga region, will in his words liberate Congo if the elections do not reflect the will of the people. "My preoccupation is the transparence and democracy in Congo because you know very well, for a very long time, we have had great difficulties," he said. "And now, there's many manipulation from many people and we do not have the security in the (country)."

He says like in the past, when his movement was disarmed and reintegrated, it will not be difficult for his troops to rearm themselves and fight again.

He says for now he will try to set up a shadow government to Mr. Kabila's.

Many of those who signed up to compete in the ballot are also angry.

Sylvie Likulia is the campaign director for one of 19 candidates who have stopped campaigning because of what they perceive as irregularities in vote preparations. "Our candidate, Likulia Bolongo, decided to freeze his campaign because all conditions are not united for election and we want to avoid a civil war. After the war situation we wanted to build peace now," she said.

Many disputing the process say there should have been an interim period, without Mr. Kabila in power, to better prepare the election.

But U.N. officials helping organize the vote in a country the size of western Europe with very little infrastructure say preparations are going very well.

They say they are not too worried about election-related violence. U.N troops are getting help from a newly trained police as well as African and European rapid reaction forces.

Of the more than 30 candidates running against Mr. Kabila, his main opponents appear to be two former rebel leaders, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Azarias Ruberwa, who were vice-presidents during the post-conflict transition period. Opponents accuse them of amassing fortunes during the war.

Elections for a new parliament are also scheduled to take place Sunday.