Congo police sweep capital day after poll results

December 10, 2011 - 8:06 PM
APTOPIX Congo Elections

Armed Congolese men wearing civilian clothes patrol in the Matete commune in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday Dec. 9, 2011, after the electoral commission declared Congolese president Joseph Kabila winner of the Nov. 28 election with 48.9 percent of the vote. Congo opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi 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,

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Police in Congo's capital prowled opposition neighborhoods Saturday rounding up young men, who were seen being dragged out of their homes and shoved into waiting cars, a day after the government announced that the country's opposition leader had lost the disputed presidential election.

Public transport was suspended in this sprawling capital. Tires continued to burn in sections of the city that had voted for opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, and bus owners ordered their fleets off the streets, fearing vandalism.

Hotels downtown sent notices to their patrons saying there would be no room service because employees could not get to work. The tense city, however, remained largely free of the violence that had been feared in the days leading up to Friday's announcement of results.

The 78-year-old Tshisekedi took to the airwaves overnight Friday to say he rejected the results issued by the country's election commission, which handed victory to President Joseph Kabila. He proclaimed himself president, saying the election had been manipulated to ensure a victory for Kabila, who finished with nearly 49 percent of the vote.

Observers fear unrest if the opposition leader orders his supporters to take to the streets. So far, Tshisekedi has called for calm, telling his supporters to await his instructions. That didn't stop angry crowds from setting tires on fire and erecting roadblocks in areas of the city that had overwhelmingly voted against Kabila.

On Saturday, an unmarked police car was slowly advancing along Avenue des Cocotiers, when it abruptly stopped in front of house No. 48. The officers carrying automatic weapons shoved their way through the home's metal gate. They emerged dragging out a young man. His mother stood helplessly by.

The scene, which took place in front of a team of reporters, was repeated a block later. Human Rights Watch senior researcher Anneke van Woudenberg said she is receiving calls from residents in numerous neighborhoods in the capital reporting abductions by the police, though she said it was too early to confirm how many people had been taken.

"The police came. One of my children was sleeping. The other one was watching TV. They left with my children, with five in all. One is 20, one is 23, one is 19 and the two others are adults," said Bienvenue Ngomgo. "They broke down the door, the window, the door knobs. They broke our things. They took our cell phones."

Government spokesman Lambert Mende denied reports that the police had shot live rounds after angry youths began burning tires soon after results were issued Friday. He said that police are only equipped with rubber bullets, and that each police unit is being flanked by a group of military auditors, who are there to ensure that no human rights abuses are committed.

However, on Saturday evening, Congo's police chief Gen. Charles Bisengimana said that at least four people have been killed in the recent postelection violence, including a woman shot by a stray bullet.

Human Rights Watch said in a report last week that 18 people have been killed in election violence, nearly all of them by Kabila's soldiers.

Doubts are beginning to emerge about the veracity of results from last week's election. International observers had originally said that although they had witnessed numerous irregularities, there was no systematic pattern of fraud.

On Saturday, observers with the Atlanta-based Carter Center said that there is growing evidence of possible vote suppression in parts of the country favorable to the opposition, and vote inflation in regions known to support Kabila.

David Pottie, one of the senior observers with the Carter Center, pointed to the contrast between Kinshasa and Katanga province.

In the capital which is one of Tshisekedi's bastions, votes from only 8,347 of the 10,334 polling stations were compiled. Around 2,000 polling stations representing some 700,000 votes were simply not included in the final tally published Friday by the election commission, an omission that was not explained by election officials. That represents an 88 percent compilation rate, and voter turnout in those precincts that were counted was only 57 percent.

By contrast in Katanga, the province where Kabila was born, over 99 percent of the votes cast were included in the published results. And voter turnout was more than 70 percent.

Pottie said that in scanning results from Katanga, there were several precincts that reported questionable results. In the locality of Mulemba-Nkulu, for example, every single one of the 260,000 votes cast was for Kabila. And although for the election overall, voter turnout was less than 59 percent, in Mulemba-Nkulu, turnout was 99.46 percent.

It remains unclear if the outcome of the vote could have been changed by instances such as this. Kabila won with 8.8 million votes, compared to 5.8 million for Tshisekedi, who took 32 percent of the vote.

"We are very frustrated. It's a big deception for us. You go and you vote, and it means nothing," said opposition supporter 50-year-old Fabien Bukasa, who had the look of someone who doesn't eat every day. He said that in his neighborhood, youth turned to vandalism in anger, but are now waiting to see what Tshisekedi says.

"We went out, and we started to burn things," he said. "On the spot. Because there was so much emotion. But the old man has asked us to stay calm. So we calmed ourselves. We are waiting for his instructions."