People in the Democratic Republic of Congo are voting for a new president in an election delayed for more than two years.
Close to 40 million people are eligible to vote for a successor to President Joseph Kabila – in power since 2001.
But the run-up has been hit by violence and controversy over the decision to exclude some 1.26 million from voting.
The poll is expected to bring the country’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.
On Saturday, however, rival candidates failed to agree on a statement aimed at reducing tension before the poll.
Voting began at 05:00 (04:00 GMT) and ends at 17:00.
Things started slowly in the capital, Kinshasa, due to heavy rain, reports the BBC’s Louise Dewast.
There have been delays in a number of areas because of problems with the electronic voting machines but the mood is calm, she says.
What’s the context for these elections?
The current president took over from his assassinated father Laurent in 2001, but he is barred from running for another term under the constitution.
He was supposed to step down two years ago, but the election was postponed after the electoral commission said it needed more time to register voters.
The decision triggered violent clashes, as the opposition accused Mr Kabila of trying to cling on to power.
Then last week, the election was delayed again, for seven days, because of problems deploying voting materials to polling sites.
This all came after thousands of electronic voting machines – being used for the first time – were destroyed in a fire in Kinshasa.
Speaking at a polling station, the president tried to address concerns about the voting, saying: “It’s clear that the elections are free and fair.”
Calm despite delays
Louise Dewast, BBC News, Kinshasa
The heavy morning rain inundated many of the capital’s dirt roads and meant things started slowly.
I visited a polling centre in one district, Kitambo, and the mood was generally calm despite one of the 12 electronic voting machines not working and several people struggling to find their names on the electoral register.
The defective machine was replaced but this caused a delay, with some people waiting in the queue for two hours.
In Kingabwa, another area of the capital, an election monitor told the BBC that when polling stations opened there, voters were frustrated due to voting machines not working, power cuts and the electoral register not being displayed.
A local observer group (Cenco) said in its first assessment of the day that just over one in six of the polling centres it visited across the country did not open on time.
Who’s running for president?
There are 21 candidates, but three frontrunners:
- Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister and Kabila loyalist, who was hit by European Union sanctions for his role in the violent suppression of opposition protests in 2017
- Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive who has promised “a dignified and prosperous Congo”, but who poor Congolese feel may not advance their cause
- Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the son of a late veteran opposition leader who has promised to make the fight against poverty his priority
What are voters saying?
Fidele Imani voted in Kinshasa and told the BBC: “We have been waiting for two years and I’m happy to vote today. We want change here, we need peace and security and people need more employment opportunities.”
This voter in the city told the BBC: “We come to vote. I don’t know if my voice will count or not. I really don’t know, but I will always come and vote.”
Francois Balumwege, also voted in the capital: “I feel liberated I am happy, I completed my civic duty, I have just voted in an election which is, for us today, very historic. Because it will allow the Congolese to see one president hand over power to another president.”
EU and US observers not invited
The three leading candidates and electoral officials met in a Kinshasa hotel on Saturday to, as Mr Fayulu said, “sign an agreement which ensures we will all behave correctly during and after the electoral process”.
But in the end, he and Mr Tshisekedi wanted amendments and refused to sign the text.
This week, voting in three districts was postponed until March, with the electoral commission blaming insecurity and an Ebola virus outbreak.
About 1.26 million people will not be able to vote on Sunday as a result.
The decision in effect cancelled their votes, as the new president is due to be sworn in by mid-January regardless.
A crowd attacked an Ebola clinic in the east of the country after the announcement.
Regional observers will be keeping a close eye on voting, but European and US observers, who had concluded previous elections in the country had lacked credibility, have not been invited.