Gunfire in Congo after Kabila wins disputed poll

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 10, 2011 6:58 AM
Gunfire in Congo after Kabila wins disputed poll

By Jonny Hogg

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Clashes between opposition protesters and security forces broke out in parts of Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday, killing at least one, a day after election authorities named incumbent President Joseph Kabila winner of a disputed poll.

Gunfire rang out in some cities, including the capital Kinshasa, after Kabila's main challenger, Etienne Tshisekedi, said he rejected the official results and declared himself the new leader of the vast central African state.

"Since last night it has been very bad, we haven't been able to sleep because of the gunfire," said Tresor Nkuna, a resident of Kinshasa, an urban sprawl of 10 million people. "We don't know when it'll stop, it's very violent," he said.

Many other parts of Kinshasa were quiet with people staying indoors, witnesses said, but clashes between protesters and security forces were reported in other parts of the country, with the United Nations reporting at least one dead. Protests also erupted in former colonial power Belgium.

Congo's November 28 vote was its first locally-organized presidential contest since a 1998-2003 war that killed more than 5 million people, and was meant to move the country on a path to greater stability. But the poll was marred by violence, chaotic preparations and allegations of fraud.

Congo's election commission announced on Friday that Kabila took nearly 49 percent of the votes to Tshisekedi's roughly 32 percent, winning him a new mandate. The results must now be ratified by the Supreme Court.

Tshisekedi called the results "a provocation" and said he considered himself Congo's new president.

An official at the U.S.-based Carter Center election observer mission said some results released on the election commission website appeared suspicious, with some areas showing 100 percent turnout with all votes going to Kabila.

"These results aren't even naturally occurring. You simply don't get that many people all being healthy, motivated, getting to the polls and voting in such unison," Carter Center mission manager David Pottie said.

In the Manono district of Katanga, voter turnout was recorded at 100.14 percent with Kabila winning 99.98 percent of the votes. The website also showed that the results from nearly 2,000 polling stations in Kinshasa had not been tallied.

The United States and the United Nations on Friday urged against post-election violence. The U.N. said disputes should go through the proper legal channels.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Kinshasa government "remains responsible for providing security for the people of the Congo" and that anyone involved in violence "must be held accountable."

SITUATION UNDER CONTROL

Congo police chief General Charles Bisengimana acknowledged ongoing clashes on Saturday, but said security forces were "controlling the situation very well."

"People are trying to pillage shops and barricade roads and we are dispersing them," he told Reuters by telephone.

A United Nations source said some civilians appeared to be armed and were shooting in parts of Kinshasa.

In the Kasai provinces, where support for Tshisekedi is strong, clashes erupted between stone-throwing protesters and security forces, an official said.

"After Tshisekedi declared himself president his supporters took to the streets, throwing stones and pillaging," East Kasai's governor Alphonse Kasanji said. "The army are deployed in trouble spots and the police are mobilized everywhere."

Alphonse Kasuasua, the president of civil society in East Kasai, said security forces were using live bullets.

"I tried to go out this morning but the security forces were firing to force people back into their homes," Kasuasua said, adding that he had heard reports of one person killed.

The U.N. reported at least one casualty in Kananga, the capital of neighboring West Kasai.

In Brussels, police arrested about 200 people late Friday after protesters threw Molotov cocktails and smashed shop windows in the Belgian capital.

At least 18 people had been killed in election-related violence in Congo by earlier this week, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, as opposition protesters took to the streets alleging the government was attempting to rig the vote.

The dispute mirrored a post-vote crisis in Ivory Coast that sparked a civil war. But unlike in Ivory Coast, the U.N. mission will not be in a position to take sides, as it does not have a mandate to certify results and did not observe the poll.

The announcement of the result had been delayed twice earlier in the week due to logistical problems and as donor nations urged more transparency, stretching the nerves of residents both eager for and worried about the outcome.

Kabila came to power when his father, Laurent, was assassinated in 2001, and later won the country's 2006 election. He has struggled to control marauding rebel groups in Congo's east despite U.N. backing.

Congo is last on the U.N. human development index despite rich mineral resources, and investors say it remains one of the most challenging countries in the world in which to do business.

(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by David Cowell)