DR Congo votes amid delays and violence

  • 28 November 2011
  • From the section Africa
Media captionThe BBC's Will Ross: "There's no ballot paper here, it's actually a ballot booklet - a vast document"

The Democratic Republic of Congo election has been marred by violence and logistical problems.

At least four people died after gunmen attacked polling stations in the second city, Lubumbashi, officials say.

In the opposition stronghold of West Kasai, polling stations were reportedly set on fire by voters angry at long delays but the capital, Kinshasa was generally peaceful.

It is the second election since the end of wars in which four million died.

Etienne Tshisekedi, 78, seen as the strongest opposition candidate, has accused President Joseph Kabila, 40, of planning to rig the election.

At least three people were killed on Saturday in election clashes, leading to a police ban on final campaign rallies.

Ahead of the vote, international organisations appealed for calm.

Some 19,000 UN peacekeepers are stationed around the country and are expected to help prevent any outbreaks of violence.

Helicopter deliveries

Polling has ended in most areas, except in some places where voting was extended because of the late start.

The vote count has begun but final results are not expected for several days.

Election officials scrambled to get ballot papers distributed to all 60,000 of the polling stations in the country - which is two-thirds the size of Western Europe and has little transport infrastructure.

In many inaccessible areas, voting material was delivered by helicopter.

Some polling stations opened as scheduled at 06:00 local time. Because of the time difference in this continent-sized country, this was 04:00 GMT in eastern areas and an hour later in the west.

However, there were long delays in some areas due to a lack of voting material.

The BBC's Mamadou Moussa Ba in the south-eastern mining capital of Lubumbashi says gunmen - suspected to belong to a secessionist movement - attacked two polling stations in the city.

AFP news agency quotes a military spokesman as saying two policeman and a civilian were killed and two soldiers wounded.

The governor of the local Katanga province, Moise Katumbi, told Reuters news agency that three of the attackers had been killed and seven arrested.

Two vehicles carrying election materials were also attacked overnight just outside Lubumbashi, our reporter says.

The attackers wounded one driver and a security officer and set voting material on fire, election officials said.

Our reporter says there were lengthy delays at some polling stations, which failed to open six hours after voting was due to start, although polling began on time in other areas.

President Kabila comes from the Katanga region around Lubumbashi and it has been a stronghold of the governing party.

But Mr Tshisekedi is mounting a strong challenge and tension there has run high in recent weeks.

'Who will pay?'

Mr Tshisekedi's Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party said police blocked his route as he was going to a polling station in Kinshasa, forcing him to go to another voting centre to cast his ballot.

In West Kasai, anger at the long delays were fuelled by reports that stuffed ballot boxes had been found, a UN source told the AFP news agency.

About 15 polling stations were burnt in this region, where Mr Tshisekedi has long enjoyed strong support.

In Kinshasa, there were also reports of long delays while voter turnout was hit by torrential rain.

Some voters told the BBC they were unable to cast their ballots - either because they could not find their names on the electoral register or because someone had already voted in their place.

In the north-eastern town of Kisangani, Jasper Mulungi protested: "I was here at 5am and now they are telling me to move to another polling centre about 20km away. Who will pay for my transport?"

As well as the 11 presidential candidates, more than 18,000 are vying for seats in the 500-member parliament.

In some areas, the ballot paper ran to several pages and resembles a newspaper because there are so many parliamentary candidates.

This is likely to have caused some confusion in a country where one-third of adults cannot read or write.

The last election, in 2006, was marred by weeks of street battles led by supporters of the losing candidate, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

A former rebel leader, he is now on trial for alleged war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

BBC East Africa correspondent Will Ross says that whether it is peaceful or not this time will depend to a great extent on the behaviour of the candidates and whether the losers are willing to accept defeat.

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