By Jonny Hogg
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Election authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday delayed the announcement of a winner in the country's presidential election for the second time this week, citing the need to cross-check results.
Tensions are high in the central African state after a November 28 poll marred by deadly violence, disorganization and allegations of fraud. Both sides have claimed victory.
"We want to apologies, we're going to continue working and we will have the results tomorrow," election commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda said on Thursday evening.
The results from the November 28 vote had first been due on Tuesday but were then pushed back until Thursday as results had not yet come in from all parts of the vast country, which is about half the size of the European Union.
Incumbent President Joseph Kabila leads so far with 48.9 percent of the vote, ahead of veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi with 33.3 percent, according to partial results covering nearly 90 percent of polling stations.
The opposition welcomed the delay to results, saying the extra time could be used to bolster the vote's transparency, and Tshisekedi's party reiterated its rejection of any Kabila win.
"The reality is that (the electoral commission) is bending under the pressure of the population. It's not easy to publish a lie," Jacquemain Shabani Lukoo, secretary general of the opposition UDPS, told Reuters.
If results released so far stand, Tshisekedi would need to win nearly all of the 2.9 million possible votes remaining to beat Kabila, according to rough calculations of the number of registered voters and polling stations yet to be counted.
"Everyone's waiting for the results. We've done our own compilation and we know that president Kabila has won, but the announcement must be credible," Aubin Minaku, secretary general of the ruling coalition backing Kabila.
Donors have called for results to be published by polling station instead of in aggregate as a way to ensure results are credible and transparent.
Brussels-based International Crisis Group warned the results risked sparking protests that could prompt a bloody repression. Congo must try to salvage "a badly flawed process" with the international help, it said.
"Counting has been as unruly as voting, and dangerously opaque. Criteria for disqualifying ballots are unclear, with Kinshasa, an opposition stronghold, disproportionately affected," the think tank said in a statement.
"Most significantly, the electoral commission has (so far) refused to publish results by polling station, which would permit their verification by opposition parties and observers. Election day flaws were bad enough; but perceptions that results are fiddled behind closed doors would spell disaster," it added.
Central Kinshasa was busier than on previous days with traffic once more flowing down the city's main boulevard. But gunfire erupted near Tshisekedi's home.
The police said officers shot in the air to stop opposition supporters marching into town but Tshisekedi's camp said three people were killed. A hospital source first said one person had arrived with bullet wounds but later retracted the statement.
Tensions are also running high in the two Kasai provinces, which are Tshisekedi heartlands. Witnesses in Mbuji Mayi, the capital of Kasai Orientale, said they had seen soldiers armed with rocket launchers in the centre of town.
Provincial governor Alphonse Kasanji confirmed that army units had been brought in to support the police and protests were officially banned. "The threat is just too great, they can contest through the courts, but not on the streets," he said.
United Nations sources in neighbouring Katanga, where Kabila is from but where there are also many members of Tshisekedi's Luba ethnic group, said there were signs of trouble between those originally from the province and those seen as outsiders.
There have been widespread allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing, though analysts say logistics and insecurity have also been to blame for the chaos, with documents destroyed or lost.
U.N.-backed Radio Okapi reported that results from some 51 polling stations, amounting to about 20,000 votes, were missing in the tally in Katanga. International observers said results from hundreds of Kinshasa polling stations were also missing without explanation, highlighting the scale of problems.
But it is not clear if they will publish their results if they differ from those given by the election body.
"We have seen that the further the process has gone in the compilation and publication of results, the less traceability there is," a senior international election observer told Reuters, asking not to be named.
"We don't really know where the figures are coming from."
(Writing and additional reporting by David Lewis in London; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Maria Golovnina)