KINSHASA,, Congo – President Joseph Kabila called on Congolese voters Friday to shun violence during the weekend elections, but unrest continued ahead of Sunday's vote, with another presidential candidate claiming one of his armed guards died and another sustained injuries when Kabila's security forces fired on them.
On the last day of an official monthlong campaign, Kabila addressed a crowd of about 5,000 massed in an old fairground. Sunday's election is Congo's first democratic presidential ballot after more than four decades of violence and unrest.
"We want to turn the page," Kabila said. "We want elections in calm, peace and discipline."
Kabila, the 35-year-old front-runner, became president under a power-sharing deal when his father was assassinated five years ago.
Azarias Ruberwa, a former rebel leader turned Kabila deputy, said Kabila's red-beret presidential guard fired on his bodyguards as Kabila's procession moved toward the parade ground Friday. It wasn't clear what provoked the gunfire and Kabila's representatives weren't immediately available for comment.
Most of the officials in the national-unity government, employ guards loyal to them alone.
Ruberwa has strong support for his presidential bid from a minority Tutsi community in Congo's east, but is otherwise unpopular and his fighters were accused of atrocities during the war. His party is considered a likely spoiler if it loses ground at the polls.
The rally came a day after a campaign event for one of Kabila's main rivals turned violent, resulting in at least five deaths.
A mob attacked and killed one soldier who allegedly fired into the crowd near the rally that drew 20,000 Jean-Pierre Bemba supporters to a stadium in the capital. Crowds of angry youth ran through the streets, burning and looting a nearby church where they saw posters bearing Kabila's image.
The U.N. said two police officers were killed in the mayhem, and Bemba's officials said three civilians also died. Before the rally, a fire at a camp for militiamen loyal to Bemba killed two children, witnesses told The Associated Press.
In an interview with The Associated Press Friday, Bemba condemned Thursday's violence and called for calm.
Over 30 people died in politically related violence during the month of campaigning by 33 presidential and thousands of legislative candidates.
The U.N. said Thursday that the last two main militia groups in Congo's troubled east had agreed to disarm in exchange for amnesty and army positions.
Though a peace deal ended most fighting in 2002, much of the east remains in turmoil. Instability there is just one of the logistics hurdles facing election organizers in the sprawling country with few paved roads and poor communications.
The vote "will not be perfect," Ross Mountain, the top U.N. official in Congo, told reporters by a video link from Kinshasa. He said, however, that sporadic violence has been contained.
The European Union and Belgium, Congo's colonial ruler before 1960, are paying for most of the U.N.'s $430 million election support operation, the U.N.'s biggest ever.
Mountain said the U.N. last week finished training 50,000 election officials who will be joined by civic, U.N. and other international election observers, totaling around 48,700 spread across Congo's 12,000 voting centers. More than 25 million people of the country's estimated 62 million people are registered to vote.
The presidential field include ex-rebel fighters and former allies of ex-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, whose U.S.-backed kleptocracy ruled over Congo for decades. The stakes are high: control of the purse strings in a country the size of Western Europe larded with troves of timber, gems and ores.
Congo tumbled into back-to-back civil wars starting in 1996 and officially ending in 2002, with peace deals that arranged Kabila's current transitional administration. A leader with a mandate from voters is seen as having the best chance at ushering in long-term peace.
With such a crowded field, no candidate is expected to get the majority needed to claim victory in the first round. A second round between Sunday's top two vote-getters would likely be held in October.