By Jonny Hogg and David Lewis
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila had an early lead in partial election results released on Friday, after a poll marred by confusion, violence and fraud allegations.
Veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi is currently Kabila's nearest challenger, according to the Reuters tally of official results released by the election commission for 15 percent of the country's 63,000 polling stations.
Vote organizers released a selection of results early to counter a flood of false figures, currently circulating in text messages and on web pages, that have stoked tensions.
Hackers managed to publish fake results on the election commission's official website that appeared to give Tshisekedi a strong lead.
"We've been hacked, these people are dishonest," commission spokesman Matthieu Mpita said.
At least 18 people died in violence during the run-up to the Democratic Republic of Congo's elections, with most shot dead by soldiers from Joseph Kabila's presidential guard, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said earlier in the day.
The elections, seen as crucial to stabilizing the vast central African country.
According to the Reuters tally of figures read out at a news conference by national election commission chief Daniel Mulunda Ngoy, Kabila was leading with 1,523,095 votes, or 51.8 percent of the 2.94 million votes counted so far.
Tshisekedi was on 997,071 votes, or 33.9 percent. However the tally so far included virtually no results from the capital Kinshasa, where Tshisekedi is confident of strong support. The percentage of votes counted so far varied widely by province.
Complete provisional results are due on December 6 and then they must be confirmed by the Supreme Court.
New York-based HRW said the worst pre-election violence saw 14 people killed on Saturday, the final day of campaigning, when authorities cancelled political rallies and used force to clear opposition supporters from the streets of the capital, Kinshasa.
The figure, based on witness accounts and reports from local rights groups, is higher than most earlier estimates of the death count from unrest around the country before and during Monday's presidential and parliamentary votes.
The group said a presidential guard convoy opened fire on civilians, killing 12 and injuring dozens more including a pregnant woman. It added that the soldiers may have been retaliating after stones were thrown by opposition supporters.
"Elections don't give soldiers an excuse to randomly shoot at crowds. The authorities should immediately suspend those responsible for this unnecessary bloodshed and hold them to account," said senior HRW Africa researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg.
No one from the government was immediately available to comment on the HRW allegations on Friday. Security minister Adolphe Lumanu said on Wednesday the presidential guard had not been deployed during the violence in Kinshasa.
"It could have been people camouflaged or wearing presidential guard uniforms, (but) no element of the presidential guards was on the streets," he told Reuters.
In Lubumbashi, capital of the Katanga copper belt, military police were drafted in to protect vote compilation centers after an attack by suspected rebels on a polling station on Monday killed two policemen, the local government said.
With preliminary results from the presidential polls due next week, HRW joined the United Nations and others in calling for calm amid rumors and rising tensions, particularly in the largely pro-opposition capital.
"As the announcement of election results nears, it is crucial for all leaders to act responsibly and peacefully, win or lose," Van Woudenberg said.
Leading opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi has repeatedly said he will not accept defeat, while three other opposition candidates have called for the vote to be annulled, citing widespread fraud by the government.
The national election commission (CENI) denied opposition allegations that planes were still flying in from South Africa with ballot papers intended for use in rigging the vote.
(Editing by Mark John and Andrew Heavens)