KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo's election commission has announced that due to technical difficulties it will be delaying the publication of results from the presidential election for 48 hours.
In a communique read on state TV, the commission said it made the decision for the sake of transparency.
The five-year mandate of current Congo President Joseph Kabila expires Tuesday at midnight.
The government had rushed ahead with last week's election in an effort to meet that deadline, despite major shortcomings, including the late delivery of ballots.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo was in limbo Tuesday as the government dispatched helicopters to the remote corners of the country to pick up missing tally sheets and officials voiced doubts about whether they would succeed in releasing the results of last week's election by midnight, as required by electoral law.
The helicopters might succeed in bringing back the votes from the bush, but it appeared that even in the capital poll workers would not finish counting in time.
Congo is staging only its second democratic election and the process has been flawed at every step, from the late printing and delivery of ballots, to the chaotic counting centers where trucks were dumping containers filled with ballots and frequent power cuts interrupted the entry of data.
"It is our objective to release the numbers before midnight tonight," said the spokesman for the National Independent Electoral Commission Matthieu Mpita. "It depends on whether we get the numbers in time."
Over 3 million people registered to vote in the capital, Kinshasa, and observers say that only two of the four vote tabulation centers there had finished compiling results by Tuesday afternoon. Even in those two hubs, poll workers had misplaced results from hundreds of polling stations, said observers.
They were sorting through mountains of rice sacks containing ballots desperately trying to find them, said David Pottie of the Carter Center, the Atlanta-based observation mission established by former President Jimmy Carter.
Near the headquarters of the main opposition party, shots rang out after police opened fire to disperse supporters of Congo's 78-year-old opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, witnesses said.
With more than two-thirds of the vote counted, Tshisekedi was trailing with 36 percent of the 12.6 million votes tabulated so far. Joseph Kabila, the sitting president who is a former rebel commander and whose elite guard is already accused of gunning down at least 14 opposition supporters, had a nearly-insurmountable lead of 46 percent.
Kabila's five-year mandate expires Tuesday. Even though it was clear that the election commission was not prepared for last Monday's vote, the government went ahead with the election in an attempt to make the deadline and avoid slipping into an unconstitutional status which could stoke tension.
Election violence has already left at least 18 dead and more than 100 wounded, with most of the deaths caused by troops loyal to Kabila, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
Congo's back-to-back civil wars in the 1990s consumed the region, and destroyed the nation whose population is now nudging 70 million. The country is ranked dead last on the United Nations' global survey of human development.
Although observers said they have not witnessed systematic fraud, only widespread irregularities, the impression among opposition supporters is that the vote is being manipulated in Kabila's favor.
At the International Criminal Court, where former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo appeared this week for crimes committed by his forces after he was declared the loser of last year's election, prosecutors issued a warning.
"Leaders from all sides must understand this: My Office is watching the situation in the DRC very closely. As we have shown in both Kenya and Cote d'Ivoire," said prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, referring to Ivory Coast by its French name. "Planning and executing attacks on civilians for electoral gain will not be tolerated."
"I urge leaders, commanders, and politicians on all sides to calm your supporters. Electoral violence is no longer a ticket to power, I assure you. It is a ticket to The Hague," he said.