Riots after Congo elections bring fears of fresh fighting

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Mobs went on the rampage through a town in north-eastern Congo and thousands of ballot papers were burnt yesterday after a drunken Congolese soldier killed two election observers, highlighting the fragility of the peace in a country which has just held its first elections in decades.

Violence erupted and half of the polling stations in Fakati, a town in the war-ravaged Ituri district, were destroyed after news of the killings sparked widespread anger. Polling stations were also destroyed in Bumba in northern Equateur province on Sunday, when the country went to the polls after a long, hard-fought and fractious campaign. The election is to be rerun in Bumba today.

The result of the election remains "too close to call", international poll observers said, sparking fears that the loser will not accept the result. As counting continued yesterday diplomats warned that both candidates, Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba, would contest the outcome if they lost by less than 5 per cent. Election observers said counting so far suggested that the margin of victory for the winning candidate would be no more than 6 per cent. Both candidates possess private armies and both have been accused of rearming since fighting between the forces broke out in Augustwhen first-round results were announced.

The US State Department said that despite the violent incidents, "this election was light years ahead of anything we have seen" in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UN and EU peacekeepers have been deployed on regular military patrols in Kinshasa. The former warlord Mr Bemba is popular in the capital and there are fears that his supporters will riot if the current president, Mr Kabila, is declared the winner. Both men have signed declarations promising to honour the result, but Mr Bemba has stressed that the vote must be "transparent".

Official results will not be published until 19 November, but election observers and the UN are pushing the independent electoral commission to release results earlier in an attempt to prevent violence.