Polls have closed in the Democratic Republic of Congo – following the first free elections there in forty years. More than 25 million people in the giant african state have cast their vote. Many walked miles and queued overnight to do so. UN observers said the ballot was orderly and peaceful, although there were some isolated incidents of damage.
At a cost of 360 million euros, the peacekeeping operation for the polls is the biggest and most complex ever organised by the UN. 17 thousand peacekeepers are backed up by 11 hundred EU troops along with the Congolese police. The country, the size of Western Europe and a treasure trove of minerals, gold and diamonds, has endured decades of violence and civil unrest.
Joseph Kabila is hoping to continue in the role of President. He took over as head of state when his father was assassinated in 2001. Standing against him – 31 candidates, many of whom are rebel leaders who fought the Kabilas in the recent internecine struggles. The Presidential candidates include the four vice-presidents who took office in 2003 as part of a transitional power-sharing deal. Almost ten thousand candidates are contesting 500 parliamentary seats. The results are expected within three weeks.