BBC News

Appeals for calm after disputed DR Congo election

image captionBurning tyres sent palls of smoke over areas in Kinshasa loyal to Etienne Tshisekedi

There have been appeals for calm in the Democratic Republic of Congo following the victory of President Joseph Kabila in disputed elections.

Main opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi has rejected official results and declared himself the winner, raising fears of violence.

Mr Tshisekedi along with the EU, the US, Britain, France and former colonial power Belgium appealed for calm.

Riot police are patrolling the capital, Kinshasa, and gunshots have been heard.

The city, in the west of the country, is an opposition stronghold and columns of smoke were seen rising over districts backing Mr Tshisekedi as groups of young men burned tyres.

On Friday evening, election commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda announced that President Kabila had gained 49% of the vote against 32% for Mr Tshisekedi.

Many shops and stalls in Kinshasa's markets have been closed for most of the week as the country awaited the results, which were delayed by several days.

Meanwhile, in areas loyal to President Kabila, mainly in the east of the country, residents cheered and supporters staged victory parades.

"I reject these results, and in fact I see them as a provocation against our people," said 78-year-old Mr Tshisekedi.

"It is scandalous and vulgar. We have done our own calculations and I received 54% to Kabila's 26%. His term is finished. I am the president."

Mr Tshisekedi later appealed to his supporters to "stay calm and peaceful".

However, he added that he was waiting to see if diplomatic efforts would change the situation.

The army says it has about 20,000 soldiers on standby in Kinshasa. The atmosphere in the city is said to be tense.

UN 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".

The French Foreign Ministry appealed for peace, saying: "France calls on all Congolese political players to show restraint and a spirit of responsibility."

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was calling on DR Congo's leaders and their supporters "to act responsibly, to renounce violence, to resolve any disagreements they might have through peaceful dialogue".

Results delayed

The announcement of the results had been delayed since Tuesday, with election officials blaming logistical problems.

Four other candidates have said the election was rigged and should be annulled.

International observers said the vote was flawed but stopped short of calling it fraudulent. Most said the irregularities were not enough to change the outcome.

Deadly clashes marred the period leading up to the election and thousands of foreigners and Congolese have fled the country for fear of further violence.

Mr Kabila, 40, has been president since 2001 following the death of his father, Laurent.

In 2006 he won the first elections since the end of a five-year conflict and is due to be sworn in on 20 December for his second term.

But his victory must first be confirmed by the supreme court.

He enjoys greater popularity in eastern areas, where his origins lie and where he is credited with helping to end the war.

However, he is less popular in the west, partly because he is not fluent in the local Lingala language and because some see him as representing foreign interests.

Mr Tshisekedi has said he has no intention of taking an election dispute to the court, which he regards as "Kabila's private institution".

Earlier this year, the constitution was amended so that the candidate with the most votes would win the election, removing the need for a second round.

The BBC's Thomas Hubert in Kinshasa says the move succeeded in dividing the opposition.

But it means Mr Kabila is bound to face legitimacy challenges as he has been re-elected with less than 50% of the vote, amid widespread suspicion of electoral fraud and with very little support in the west.

Although DR Congo is rich in minerals such as gold and diamonds, years of conflict and mismanagement mean it recently came bottom of a survey of living standards around the world.

Inside DR Congo
size map
The Democratic Republic of Congo covers 2,344,858 square km of land in the centre of Africa, making it the 12th largest country in the world.
size map
Eastern DR Congo is awash with a variety of different rebel groups – some have come from neighbouring countries, while others have formed as self-defence groups. Many are taking advantage of the lack of a strong state to seize control of the area's mineral riches.
mineral wealth map
DR Congo has abundant mineral wealth. It has more than 70% of the world's coltan, used to make vital components of mobile phones, 30% of the planet's diamond reserves and vast deposits of cobalt, copper and bauxite. This wealth however has attracted looters and fuelled the country's civil war.
transport map
Despite the country's size, transport infrastructure is very poor. Of 153,497km of roads, only 2,794km are paved. There are around 4,000 km of railways but much is narrow-gauge track and in poor condition. Waterways are vital to transport goods but journeys can take months to complete. Overcrowded boats frequently capsize, while DR Congo has more plane crashes than any other country.
population map
With an estimated population of 71 million, DR Congo is the fourth most populous country in Africa. Some 35% of the population live in cities and the capital Kinshasa is by far the largest, with more than 8 million inhabitants. DR Congo has around 200 ethnic identities with the majority of people belonging to the Kongo, Luba and Mongo groups.
demographic map
Given its size and resources DR Congo should be a prosperous country, but years of war, corruption and economic mismanagement have left it desperately poor. In 2011 it lags far behind in many key development indicators, with average life expectancy increasing by only 2 years since 1980, after a period when it actually fell during the mid 1990s.