Congo opposition leader declares self president

December 9, 2011 - 1:31 PM
Congo Election

Supporters of Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi flash victory signs near their candidate's headquarters in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Thursday Dec. 8, 2011. Congo is tense as its people await the outcome of last week's disputed election, with partial results making victory all but certain for incumbent Joseph Kabila. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — A Congo opposition leader who was declared the loser of the country's election has told French television that he considers himself the new president.

In an interview with France 24, a few hours after results were issued Friday, Etienne Tshisekedi said, "I consider myself the elected president."

Tshisekedi declared himself president before voting even started last month. And in the days leading up to the publication of results, his party has continued to say it will reject the results if they favored incumbent Joseph Kabila.

Election Commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda on Friday declared Kabila the winner of the Nov. 28 election with 48.9 percent of the vote.

Tshisekedi came in second with 32.3 percent of the over 18 million votes cast.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo's President Joseph Kabila won another term in office, the election commission said Friday, defeating the main opposition candidate whose supporters vowed to take to the streets. Plumes of smoke smudged the skyline as tires were burned outside tabulation centers.

Kabila won with 49 percent of the 18.14 million votes cast, while longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi had 32 percent, according to the final tallies released by election commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda. The remaining votes were split among more than a half-dozen other candidates.

Hoping to forestall violence, Mulunda warned before reading the final results that "the candidates must understand that in every election there is a winner and there is one or several losers."

In a pro-Kabila neighborhood in downtown Kinshasa near the election commission, people hung out of balconies cheering after the results were released. A woman danced in the street as police in riot gear stood at attention.

In the Limite neighborhood of Kinshasa, where the 78-year-old Tshisekedi lives, the mood was dark.

"This is a total disaster," said Fabien Bukasa, a Tshisekedi supporter. "We are thinking about what to do. We do not know what will happen."

International observers said the vote was flawed but stopped short of calling it fraudulent. Most say irregularities across sub-Saharan Africa's largest nation weren't enough to change the outcome of Congo's second democratic election. But many opposition supporters believe Tshisekedi won, setting the stage for a confrontation.

The opposition accuses international observers and the international community of propping up the 40-year-old Kabila.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for "any differences regarding the provisional results of the polls to be resolved peacefully through available legal and mediation mechanisms," according to a statement Friday. The U.N. chief condemned any acts of violence, and reiterated his call for calm, urging "all candidates and their supporters to exercise restraint."

The French Foreign Ministry released a statement Friday urging "the candidates who context the provisional results to do so through legal channels."

"France calls on all Congolese political players to show restraint and a spirit of responsibility," it said. "France will condemn any incitement to violence."

Britain's Africa minister Henry Bellingham said in a statement Friday that he welcomed the publication of polling station data. "This is an important step towards ensuring the transparency of the process."

Even before results were announced, election violence killed at least 18 people and left more than 100 wounded. Most of the deaths were caused by troops loyal to Kabila, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Kabila's father Laurent Kabila had seized power of the nation, then known as Zaire, after overthrowing dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001 and his son Joseph took over this vast, mineral-rich country in the heart of Africa. Kabila was then elected president in 2006 in a vote overseen and organized by the U.N.

Congo's enormous geography has proved challenging both for the electoral commission organizing it as well as for the country's government. Its rain forests in the east still harbor vicious rebel armies, including remnants of the Interhamwe, the militia responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

Congo has survived two civil wars, which together pulled in nine neighboring countries more than a decade ago. Even though Congo is the size of Western Europe, it remains one of the globe's most impoverished nations and was recently listed last on the United Nations' worldwide index of human development.

The election results must now be approved by the Supreme Court.

This was only the second democratic election in Congo's 51-year history, and the first to be organized entirely by the government instead of by the international community.

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Associated Press reporters Jerome Delay in Kinshasa, Congo, Carley Petesch in Johannesburg, Jenny Barchfield in Paris and David Stringer in London contributed to this report.