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Angolans await outcome of first free elections

ANGOLANS of all ages were glued to their radios yesterday to hear unofficial results from this week's first elections in the southern African country.

The two main constestants in the legislative and presidential elections held on 29-30 September both claimed to be leading as unofficial results came in from the 5,820 polling stations around the country.

The National Election Council, the sole source of official returns, had failed to issue any results, primarily because a power blackout on Wednesday night in Luanda, the capital, damaged its computer software program. Hundreds of polling stations could begin the count only yesterday morning because they had no lights.

The state-controlled radio and television has shown a consistent bias in favour of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Not surprisingly, the stations put the MPLA standard-bearer ahead of Jonas Savimbi, his main opponent in the presidential hustings, by a three-to-one margin. Holden Roberto, leader of the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), was a distant third.

The radio reported that its survey of 121,005 voters - out of a 4.8 million-strong electorate - showed 77,034 voted for Mr dos Santos and 30,534 for Mr Savimbi, who leads the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita). It said that in the vote for the 223-seat parliament, Unita won 25,059 votes and the MPLA 71,490. Mr Roberto and his FNLA came third, with 4,215 in the presidential poll and 4,090 votes for the legislature.

Officials for Unita quickly called a press conference yesterday morning to counter the television and radio reports, asserting that in fact Mr Savimbi, the charismatic former guerrilla leader, was leading Mr dos Santos, a Soviet-trained engineer, by a margin of two to one.

Unita sources told Reuters news agency that counting so far showed 53,000 votes for Mr Savimbi and 19,000 for Mr dos Santos. They said Unita won 47,000 votes in the legislative ballot and the MPLA 16,000.

Despite the wide discrepancy in their respective counts, however, both sides expressed confidence that the election had been fair. Many of the 800 foreign observers monitoring the polls said they were amazed by the turnout, which election officials said could be as high as 90 per cent. The United Nations and European Community limited themselves to applauding the Angolan people for the way they conducted the election and suggested they would render judgement on the conduct of the vote at a later date.