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Congo president wins in kind of ‘coup d’etat’

- - Tuesday, December 6, 2011

GOMA, Congo — Amid cries of fraud and threats of massive protests that could turn violent, Congolese President Joseph Kabila appears to have secured another five-year term.

With 46 percent of the vote and more than two-thirds of polling stations reporting, Mr. Kabila is easily the front-runner, trailed by opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, with 36 percent of the vote.

"What the current president is doing is a kind of coup d'etat," Wemba Katina, regional head of Mr. Tshisekedi's party, Union for Democracy and Social Progress, said in a campaign office in the eastern province of North Kivu. "Even children here know the ballot boxes were stuffed."

Mr. Katina called the election fraudulent and said his party was not waiting for results, but for instructions from their leader. Supporters, he said, are prepared for large-scale demonstrations.

While he stopped short of calling for violence, he said party members are ready to fight if government forces attack them.

Despite the rising tension, ruling party officials say the elections were democratic and transparent.

"International observers witnessed fair elections," said Cyrille Muhongya, who leads the ruling party's local campaign in the North Kivu capital, Goma. "If violence breaks out, it will not be coming from outside."

Election officials scrambled to publish results, originally scheduled before midnight Tuesday, the end of Mr. Kabila's presidential mandate.

Critics said the results are unverifiable and disorganized. Matthieu Ruchogoza, the electoral commission head in Goma, denied those claims, saying the process would produce an accurate reflection of the will of the Congolese people.

"We are confident that what is being published is correct," he said. "There should not be problems."

On local radio, opposition officials urged the government to send truckloads of soldiers back to their barracks rather than leaving them on the streets to "frighten the population."

Goma police said the added deployments were keeping them too busy to comment.

Human Rights Watch said at least 18 people were killed - mostly by government gunfire - and 100 were injured in the mayhem leading up to the Nov. 28 vote.

Schools and many businesses were closed Tuesday in the capital, Kinshasa, and text-messaging service has been cut nationwide since the weekend.

In recent days, thousands of people have fled Congo for its smaller neighbor, the Republic of Congo, more commonly known as Congo-Brazzaville. Observers say urban unrest could break out if Mr. Kabila wins, and any other victor could spark violence in the countryside.

The United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Carter Center have noted irregularities in the election, but have urged the Congolese people to remain calm and either accept the results or present their complaints to the courts.

Last week, the International Crisis Group reported a "conflict risk alert" for Congo.

But outside a local campaign office for Vital Kamerhe, Mr. Kabila's second most formidable opponent, supporters said international observers are failing to represent Congolese interests.

Ciza Mukibaki was an election observer for Mr. Kamerhe's party. He said he saw pre-marked ballots at the polls and opposition observers were intimidated when they tried to speak out.

"What is scary is that the results we are going to get are not what we voted for," he said. "Everyone is angry and upset."

Observers warn that anger could rekindle the conflict that officially ended in 2003 but continues to simmer in the remote countryside. Known as "Africa's First World War," the conflict was the bloodiest since World War II, leaving as many as 5 million people dead, mostly from disease and famine.

For many Congolese, fear of starvation is more immediate than fear of postelection violence.

In his secondhand clothing shop, Christian, 39, said Mr. Kabila failed to deliver on promises involving development, education, peace and economic growth.

Between government neglect and the collapse of the local mineral trade, Christian, a father of three, said life in Congo has become nearly unbearable.

"Surviving in Congo is now just by luck," he said as the light faded in his shop, which does not have electricity. "Everything is a hazard."

Asked why he declined to give his last name, Christian said he was afraid that government forces would harass him for criticizing the regime.

"I'm afraid someone might come looking for me," he said. "Congo is not a democracy."

In London, about 300 anti-Kabila activists clashed with British police while demonstrating outside the residence of Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday.

Police arrested 17 people on suspicion of obstructing a highway, a Scotland Yard spokesman said.