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Tally Begins in Congo Presidential Vote

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By HEIDI VOGT
The Associated Press
Monday, October 30, 2006; 3:59 PM

KINSHASA, Congo -- Rioters destroyed polling stations in eastern Congo on Monday and a revote was planned in one northern town after ballots were burned, yet much of this Central African country called the landmark presidential runoff a success as the colossal task of counting the election results began.

Sunday's tense balloting pitted President Joseph Kabila against former rebel chief Jean-Pierre Bemba in voting that many hoped would usher the country into democracy after more than 40 years of dictatorship and war.

But fears also were raised that it would ignite a return to war, four years after a 1998-2002 conflict that pulled in armies from more than a half-dozen African nations.

Mobs in the northeastern border town of Fataki destroyed 43 polling stations and the ballots stored inside after a soldier killed two electoral workers. U.N. spokesman Leocadio Salmeron said it was unclear what prompted the army sergeant to shoot, but said he appeared to be drunk. The soldier was arrested by police.

Elsewhere, polling stations posted tallies and election workers prepared to go home after spending two nights at their posts. In Kinshasa, where problems collecting and counting millions of ballots in the first round left the final tally open to criticism, the U.N. commandeered trucks and cars from its various agencies to pick up votes and bring them to one of 14 collection centers.

Both Kabila and Bemba have pledged to accept the results _ an important pact given that fighting between their personal security forces in August as first-round results were released killed at least 23 people.

Allegations of fraud or irregular voting can quickly spark unrest in Congo.

One person died Sunday when protesters who suspected ballot tampering ransacked a dozen polling stations and clashed with security forces in the northwest town of Bumba. The looted polling places were to reopen Tuesday to give voters another chance.

Meanwhile, a rights group said blockades set up by money-extorting soldiers prevented thousands from voting in the east.

Many Congolese said they chose the candidate they trusted to keep the peace.

International observers sounded optimistic, saying the violence in Fataki and Bumba was not the norm.

"There does not appear to be a trend of either intimidation or violence. One could almost say the opposite," said Joe Clark, former Canadian prime minister and head of the Atlanta-based Carter Center's observing team.


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