DR Congo vote battle intensifies as observers slam flaws

11th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

France appealed for calm Sunday hours after a damning report by international observers into the Democratic Republic of Congo's elections heightened the already tense political stand-off there.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned on Sunday that the situation was "explosive" after election officials declared President Joseph Kabila re-elected, but opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi rejected the result.

"The situation is explosive, I'm well aware," Jupee told French broadcasters.

"The temptation to resort to violence is extremely strong, so we are trying to do everything possible to avoid this," he added.

The credibility of the official results were further undermined Sunday after the Carter Center, a non-profit organisation that monitored the election, said the election was so flawed it lacked credibility.

Kabila, in power since 2001, had on Friday named the winner of the November 28 poll, a result runner-up Etienne Tshisekedi immediately rejected, declaring himself president.

Violent protests and looting erupted in Kinshasa when Kabila's win was announced.

By Sunday however, a heavy security force presence including police, presidential guards and some 20,000 soldiers deployed to the capital had largely restored a tense calm Sunday.

Public transportation was back on the streets after having virtually disappeared Saturday, and people were out and about again after a day of eerie quiet in the sprawling city of 10 million.

Police said four people had been killed Friday and Saturday as security forces used tear gas and fired shots in the air at alleged looters to put down the unrest. UN broadcaster Radio Okapi put the death toll at six.

The report by the Carter Center was unequivocal.

"Multiple locations... reported impossibly high rates of 99 to 100 percent voter turnout with all, or nearly all, votes going to incumbent President Joseph Kabila," said a statement from the group.

"These and other observations point to mismanagement of the results process and compromise the integrity of the presidential election."

The Carter Center also reported the loss of nearly 2,000 polling station results in Kinshasa, a Tshisekedi stronghold and it described what it said was a chaotic counting process.

The European Union and other international and local observers have also cited serious problems with the vote, ranging from disorganisation at polling stations to ballot box stuffing.

Tshisekedi's party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), met Sunday to plan its next steps, top officials said.

"President Tshisekedi has made an appeal to the international community to find a solution," said spokesman Albert Moleka.

"We're waiting for a sign from the international community. That doesn't prevent people from using their right to protest peacefully in the meantime."

A spokesman said the party had been lobbying for international backing and that Tshisekedi had been in contact with African Union commission president Jean Ping and top US Africa diplomat Johnnie Carson.

The election commission said Kabila had won 49 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Tshisekedi.

Tshisekedi has claimed the UDPS's own count, based on results taken directly from polling stations, showed he had in fact won with 54 percent.

Kinshasa was sharply divided over the weekend. Kabila supporters held a second night of victory celebrations Saturday at party offices in the upscale neighbourhood of Gombe, where many embassies and ministries are located.

But in Bambu district, a Tshisekedi stronghold, police detained youths they accused of instigating violence, tied them up and hit them, firing their AK-47s in the air to clear the streets.

"The police are terrorising the population," said opposition activist Angele Makombo, president of the League of Congolese Democrats.

Text messaging was still disabled on the country's cell phone networks under interior ministry orders. The block has been in place for more than a week, ostensibly to stop the circulation of inflammatory election rumours.

Analysts have warned that the elections, just the second since back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2003, risk unleashing new conflict in the vast central African country.

The campaign was marred by bloodshed that according to Human Rights Watch left at least 18 civilians dead, most shot by Kabila's presidential guard.

© 2011 AFP

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