- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

KINSHASA, Congo — Incumbent President Joseph Kabila was declared the winner of Congo’s tense runoff election yesterday, defeating his rival and ex-rebel leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba, in the country’s first multiparty contest in more than four decades.

Mr. Kabila won with about 58 percent of the vote, compared with nearly 42 percent for Mr. Bemba, said Apollinaire Malu Malu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission.

Mr. Bemba has disputed results from the Oct. 29 vote for days, and his forces fought police and troops loyal to Mr. Kabila on Saturday for several hours in the capital, leaving three civilians and one soldier dead. Earlier yesterday, Mr. Bemba’s fighters refused a request by United Nations’ peacekeepers to return to military barracks in the city.

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Mr. Bemba’s home was silent, as was most of this capital of nearly 6 million people, where he enjoys massive support and Mr. Kabila is largely disliked. A few dozen people in some downtown Kinshasa bars made celebratory toasts, and car horns honked in victory in an elite suburb.

Mr. Kabila looked set for victory since earlier this week, when results showed him with an insurmountable lead. No official winner had been declared by the electoral commission until last night, when Mr. Malu Malu made the announcement on state television.

The U.N. mission deployed tanks onto Kinshasa’s streets, part of stepped-up security across Kinshasa that has also included a greater presence of European peacekeepers and police.

The electoral commission had said it would look into Mr. Bemba’s complaints of fraud, but Mr. Malu Malu made no reference to the investigations.

“The big hope is that people want the elections, they want peace, they want to get on with their lives in circumstances that promise a better future,” said William Lacy Swing, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative to the Congo.

International observers have said voting was largely free and fair, and the election commission has rejected accusations that its count has been skewed by fraud.

When results of the first presidential round were announced in August, the two sides battled on the streets of Kinshasa for three days, killing 23 persons.

U.N. personnel carriers with mounted submachine guns and truckloads of troops remained overnight in front of Mr. Bemba’s house on the capital’s main June 30 Boulevard. U.N. military spokesman Lt. Col. Stephane Lescoffit said about 100 troops had been stationed there.

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