By Jonny Hogg and David Lewis
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congolese opposition candidate Vital Kamerhe on Wednesday withdrew his call for the November 28 presidential and parliamentary elections to be annulled on the grounds of widespread irregularities.
The move means that both Kamerhe and veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, the other serious rival standing against President Joseph Kabila, appear happy to allow the ballot count to go ahead.
Kabila's camp meanwhile accused its rivals of pre-empting official results and said security measures were being taken to contain trouble.
Three opposition candidates have called for the vote, which was plagued by delays and isolated outbreaks of violence, to be cancelled. African observer missions on Wednesday praised the poll while the U.S.-based Carter Center raised some concerns but said it too early to make a judgement.
In a letter on Monday addressed to senior Congolese and international officials Kamerhe had called for the poll to be annulled due to irregularities.
However, two days later and after results had started being published, Kamerhe, a former speaker of parliament and minister of Kabila's, told journalists there had been improvements in voting conditions during election day.
"At this moment, we are not calling for the cancellation of the results," Kamerhe said, adding that results should be widely published as they are collated, to avoid fraud.
Kamerhe said he and Tshisekedi had considered joining others calling for the poll to be cancelled but had decided against it because witnesses had been allowed into polling stations and voters themselves controlled alleged efforts at ballot-stuffing.
Monday's elections were accompanied by violence in which at least eight people died, shortages of voting materials and confusion over voter lists.
The African Union on Wednesday urged candidates to accept the outcome, saying they were well managed despite technical problems and violence. The AU and other African observer missions have rejected the calls for the vote to be cancelled.
Tshisekedi's camp has said early indications from polling stations suggest he is in the lead, and Tshisekedi conspicuously failed to join the call of other candidates for an annulment.
Evariste Boshab, secretary general of the ruling PPRD party, accused Tshisekedi's camp of pre-empting results. "My smile, my confidence, is that not enough for you?" he said to Reuters, when asked how Kabila had fared in the vote.
"The reason that Tshisekedi and Kabila are going ahead with the process is clear: They both think they can win. Obviously, there will only be one president ... Neither side appears ready to step down without a fight," said Congo analyst and author Jason Stearns on his blog, http://congosiasa.blogspot.com/
The George Soros-funded OSISA and Congolese observer group AETA said in a joint statement the population had voted in large numbers but there were shortcomings with organization.
The group blamed the election commission for the problems and called for a cancellation of results and/or a re-vote in places where there were problems.
The Carter Center said it was too early to give an overall verdict on the vote or turnout.
Voting entered the third day on Wednesday in some areas. The election commission confirmed that an unspecified number of new ballot papers had been flown in from South Africa on Tuesday but rejected opposition suspicion that they would be used for fraud.
BRISK TRADE IN "INFORMAL RESULTS"
Kabila's move this year to sign off on constitutional changes making the vote a single-round election was widely seen as giving him the edge against a split field of 10 rivals. It means that a simple majority is needed for victory.
Both Twitter and Congo's "Radio Trottoire" rumour mill were alive with snippets of reported results or projections.
Street vendors who usually sell newspapers to motorists on the boulevard in central Kinshasa were doing brisk trade in sheets of paper claiming to be "informal results."
Adolphe Lumanu, Congo's security minister, said the government was already bracing for a contested result. Kabila would accept losing but his rivals must do the same, he added.
Results are starting to be transferred from over 60,000 polling stations for compilation but the Carter Center warned that preparations had been inadequate.
"CENI must intensify its efforts to ensure that the voice of the Congolese people is respected, recorded and communicated in a manner that is secure and transparent," it said.
Late on Tuesday the main centre in Kinshasa was still under construction, with votes being left in piles outside. The parliamentary count will take 45 days but the presidential results are expected on December 6.
Kamerhe called on the international community, led by the U.N., to take advantage of the lull to ward off trouble that may come from parties simultaneously declaring themselves winner.
"It will lead either to challenges or troubles if there are no preparations now," he said.
The complaints of fraud have led to concerns that Congo could see a post-election dispute like that in Ivory Coast, which this year descended into four months of conflict when incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Gbagbo and transferred him to The Hague on Wednesday to face charges of crimes against humanity for his alleged part in a conflict which claimed at least 3,000 lives.
(Writing by Mark John and Bate Felix; editing by Andrew Roche)