Clashes intensify in DRC as observers slam elections

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) tense election standoff intensified on Sunday after a team of international observers reported that incumbent Joseph Kabila’s win was so flawed it lacked credibility.

Kabila, in power since 2001, was on Friday named the winner of the November 28 poll, but runner-up Etienne Tshisekedi immediately rejected the result and declared himself president.

Violent protests and looting erupted in Kinshasa after the announcement. Police said four people had died in the unrest on Friday and Saturday.

Protests also spilled over to the Congolese diaspora in London and Brussels.

Election monitors from the Carter Centre, a non-profit organisation founded by former US president Jimmy Carter, added momentum on Saturday to Tshisekedi’s refusal to accept the results, saying they “lack credibility”.

“Multiple locations … reported impossibly high rates of 99 to 100% voter turnout with all, or nearly all, votes going to incumbent President Joseph Kabila,” the group said in a statement.

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

‘Poor’ rating
The Carter Centre said its observers gave a rating of “poor” to 40% of the 169 compilation centres where results were tabulated.

It reported irregularities including the loss of nearly 2 000 polling station results in Kinshasa, a Tshisekedi stronghold, and chaos in the counting process ranging from ballots piled on the floor and stepped on to results sheets soaked in a rain storm then hung on sticks to dry.

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.

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

Tshisekedi claimed his party’s own count based on results taken directly from polling centres showed he had in fact won with 54%.

“As a result, I consider myself from this day on as the elected president,” he said.

‘Irresponsible act’
Government spokesperson and Communications Minister Lambert Mende on Saturday threatened Tshisekedi with prosecution for the statement, which he called an “infraction of the law” and an “attack on the constitution”.

“It’s an irresponsible act that violates the laws of the republic,” he said. “The public prosecutor has the authority to take the matter to court.”

Exacerbating the volatile atmosphere, national police chief Charles Bisengimana said security forces had fatally shot three looters and a woman had been killed by a stray bullet during the unrest in the capital.

UN broadcaster Radio Okapi said six had died in the unrest.

After Kabila’s win was declared, protesters in Kinshasa set cars and tyres alight and threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas and shots fired in the air.

A heavy security force presence, including police, presidential guards and 20 000 soldiers on standby at military bases, put down the initial protests.

“The situation is totally under control,” Bisengimana said Saturday. “The hostile protests have been put down.”

But sporadic unrest erupted again on Saturday despite heavy patrols by police and soldiers, some toting rocket-propelled grenades, who fired shots in the air to disperse groups of people.

International protests
There were no reports of major violence in Lubumbashi, the restive capital of the south-eastern mining province of Katanga, which had seen campaign clashes between rival partisans and a pair of deadly rebel attacks on voting day.

In London, police arrested 143 people Saturday at an anti-Kabila demonstration that turned violent as protesters attacked cars and shops and threatened members of the public near Prime Minister David Cameron’s office, Scotland Yard said.

A protest in Brussels also turned violent on Friday, with police arresting two people suspected of throwing petrol bombs and detaining another 200 to check their papers, the Belga news agency reported.

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. — AFP

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