Congo, Jan 11 (AP/UNB) — Congo appeared on the cusp of its first peaceful transfer of power with the surprise victory Thursday of opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi, despite clear signs that a rival opposition leader actually won in a landslide.
With no major protests in the capital and limited violence elsewhere in the vast Central African country, the population seemed to be choosing stability over credibility, accepting Tshisekedi's win and the end to President Joseph Kabila's long and turbulent rule.
But a court challenge to the results could spin the country into chaos, observers warned.
The influential Catholic Church, which deployed 40,000 observers at all polling stations, said official results did not match its findings, and diplomats briefed on them said rival opposition candidate Martin Fayulu won easily.
Fayulu alleges that Kabila engineered a backroom deal with the largely untested Tshisekedi to protect his power base in a country with staggering mineral wealth. An outspoken campaigner against Congo's widespread graft — it ranked 161th among 180 countries in Transparency International's latest index — Fayulu denounced the official results as "robbery."
He called on people to "rise as one man to protect victory."
As night fell, scores of police with automatic rifles and tear gas launchers were positioned along a road in Kinshasa leading to the Kingabwa neighborhood, a Fayulu stronghold. One vehicle was filled with military personnel in combat gear.
Despite the heavy security presence, the nation of 80 million remained largely calm. Some protest violence was reported in Kikwit, a Fayulu stronghold, where police said three people were killed. Police also confirmed "agitations" in Congo's third-largest city, Kisangani, but said they were quickly brought under control.
It was not immediately clear whether Fayulu would challenge the election results in court. Candidates have two days after the announcement to file challenges and the constitutional court has seven days to consider them before results are final.
Careful statements by the international community did not congratulate Tshisekedi, merely taking note of official results and urging peace and stability in a country with little of it. Observers appeared to be watching for the reactions of Fayulu's supporters.
Two diplomats said all major election observation missions, including those of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, showed similar results to those of the Catholic Church. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Tshisekedi, who received 38 percent of the vote according to official results, had not been widely considered the leading candidate. Long in the shadow of his father, the late opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, he startled Congo last year by breaking away from the opposition's unity candidate, Fayulu, to stand on his own.
Fayulu, a former Exxon manager and Kinshasa lawmaker, received 34 percent of the vote in the official results. He was a vocal activist during the two-year delay in Congo's election, insisting it was time for Kabila to go. Fayulu was backed by two popular opposition leaders barred by the government from running.
Even before the election announcement, some observers suggested that Kabila's government might make a deal with Tshisekedi as hopes faded for ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who received just 23 percent of the vote.
Many Congolese objected to Shadary, suspecting that he would allow Kabila to continue to rule from behind the scenes and protect his vast assets.
Several Congo analysts agreed that it appeared Kabila made a quiet agreement with Tshisekedi, saying Fayulu would have posed more of a threat.
"If Fayulu and his allies, with their own independent security and financial networks, had taken power they would have changed the power structure of Congo and definitively ousted Kabila and his clan," said Patrick Smith of the newsletter Africa Confidential. "Tshisekedi, with his weaker network, looks like being the junior partner in his accommodation with the Kabila establishment."
Pierre Englebert, a fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, said Tshisekedi would be more malleable and might allow Kabila's network to continue.
"One possibility for today's result is that once the regime saw the catastrophic mistake Kabila had made by nominating Shadary, it scrambled to come up with a Plan B. Enter Tshisekedi," Englebert wrote in an analysis . Tshisekedi "has wavered at times in his opposition to the regime and is far from having his late father's intransigence."
By breaking away from the opposition coalition supporting Fayulu, Tshisekedi "positioned himself to bargain with the regime," Englebert wrote. "But if the history of the Kabila regime and its tight control on the state and its security apparatus are any indication, the ... new president-elect is likely to end up on the losing end of this bargain."
Western powers appeared wary.
Britain's foreign secretary said he was "very concerned about discrepancies" in Congo's results, adding that the United Nations Security Council would discuss the matter on Friday. France's foreign minister bluntly cast doubt on the official results and Belgium's foreign minister expressed concern. There was no immediate United States comment.
The delayed results, 10 days after the Dec. 30 vote, came after international pressure to announce an outcome that reflected the will of the people, with the U.S. threatening sanctions.
The largely peaceful election faced numerous problems as many voting machines that Congo used for the first time malfunctioned. Dozens of polling centers opened hours late as materials went missing. Most alarming to many Congolese, some 1 million of the country's 40 million voters were barred from participating, with the electoral commission blaming a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.
The difference between Tshisekedi and Fayulu in official results was some 684,000 votes. Some observers said the barred voters could have made the difference.
Congo's government cut internet service the day after the vote to prevent speculation on social media. It remained off in parts of the country on Thursday.
Some Congolese weary of Kabila's 18-year rule, the two turbulent years of election delays and years of conflict that killed millions said they simply wanted peace. Some said they would be happy as long as Fayulu or Tshisekedi won, recalling the violence that followed past disputed elections.
Kabila has ruled since 2001 in the troubled nation rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world. He is barred from serving three consecutive terms, but until he announced last year that he would step aside many Congolese feared he'd find a way to stay in office.
Now Congo faces a new leader who is little known after spending many years in Belgium and standing behind his outspoken father. The 56-year-old Tshisekedi took over as head of Congo's most prominent opposition party in early 2018, a year after his father's death.
Gleeful Tshisekedi supporters who took to the streets in Kinshasa to celebrate said they were happy to see Kabila step down.
"This is the coronation of a lifetime," said the deputy secretary-general of Tshisekedi's party, Rubens Mikindo. "This is the beginning of national reconciliation."
Cairo, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — Sudanese activists say two protesters have been killed in clashes between police and demonstrators calling on longtime President Omar al-Bashir to step down.
The activists said on Thursday the two were killed the previous day in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman, where hundreds tried to march on parliament to submit a note demanding that al-Bashir resigns. They said eight were injured.
The activists said police used tear gas and fired in the air to disperse the protesters on Wednesday, the latest such clashes in three weeks of anti-government demonstrations initially sparked by price rises and shortages.
Police said late Wednesday they were investigating reports that three people might have been killed in the Omdurman clashes.
Al-Bashir has said those who want to remove him can only do so through elections.
Kinshasa, Jan 9 (AP/UNB)— Anti-riot police with water cannon and armored vehicles surrounded Congo's electoral commission on Wednesday ahead of the delayed announcement of the results of the presidential election.
Residents of the capital, Kinshasa, said the heavy security presence was a bad sign, with some recalling the violence that followed past disputed elections.
It "may be a message that the publication (of the results) won't meet the expectations of the Congolese people," resident John Kabamba said.
The first results could be announced as early as Wednesday. Police installed metal barriers and blocked traffic outside the electoral commission as it continued meetings that began late Tuesday to discuss the results compiled so far.
The preliminary results of the Dec. 30 vote had been expected on Sunday, but the commission indefinitely delayed the announcement, to the frustration and growing suspicion of many Congolese. Some said the delay is allowing manipulation in favor of the ruling party.
"Seeing all these barriers, it proves that (the commission) doesn't need or doesn't want to give us the name of the person who was elected," said Kinshasa resident Beni Babutu.
The vast, mineral-rich Central African country is choosing a successor to departing President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001. He backs ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is under European Union sanctions for a crackdown on Congolese protesting two years of election delays while he was interior minister.
Leading opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, a Kinshasa lawmaker and businessman, has urged the electoral commission to announce the true results as quickly as possible and warned it not to "play with fire, it is very dangerous." He said the delay is to "fudge the results" and warned that his coalition would release its own figures if the official ones are in doubt.
Spokesmen for both Shadary and the other top opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, have indicated that their candidates won. Tshisekedi's party on Tuesday called him the "presumed winner" and indicated that he has had contact with Kabila "to prepare a peaceful and civilized transfer of power." Kabila adviser Kikaya Bin Karubi, however, denied any such contact.
The government has cut internet service since the day after the election to prevent speculation on social media about who won, and blocked some radio stations.
The United States, African Union, European Union and others have urged Congo's government to make sure the election results conform to the will of the people. Western pressure likely has little effect, however, as Congo's government has rejected what it calls interference and expelled the EU ambassador days before the vote. Western election observers were not invited.
Many have seen this election as Congo's first chance at a democratic, peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960. But one Congolese election observer group, Symocel, on Tuesday reported "major irregularities" including the disappearance of envelopes containing results from nearly 120 polling stations in Kinshasa, an opposition stronghold.
Congo's powerful Catholic Church has said it found a clear winner from data compiled by its 40,000 observers deployed to all polling stations. Voting regulations prohibit anyone but the electoral commission from announcing results. The church has urged the commission to announce accurate ones.
Congo's ruling party responded angrily, calling the church's announcement "anarchist," and the electoral commission accused the church of "preparing an uprising." The church replied by saying that only the release of false results would incite an uprising.
Electoral commission president Corneille Nangaa has said authorities were aware that "this process has always been surrounded by distrust."
He blamed the delay on opposition parties' insistence that results be counted by hand and not transmitted electronically via voting machines, which Congo used for the first time. The machines were the focus of much concern, with the opposition and observers saying they could open the door to manipulating results.
Cairo, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on Wednesday rejected calls for him to step down as hundreds took to streets in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman in a march to the national legislature to deliver a note demanding that he quit office.
The developments were the latest in three weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have engulfed Sudan.
Al-Bashir told a gathering of several thousands of supporters in the capital that he is ready to step down only "through election."
There "are those who conspire against Sudan and seek to attack it. There are no other options but national dialogue and elections," he said in televised comments as supporters chanted "there is no alternative to al-Bashir."
"The decision is the decision of the Sudanese people through the ballot box," added al-Bashir, who then briefly danced on the stage.
Also at the rally, al-Bashir, in power since he led an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, advised opposition parties to prepare for the elections in 2020. His supporters arrived in packed buses for what was the largest rally in Khartoum in support of the president since the protests erupted.
On Tuesday during a visit to a military base in the railway city of Atbara, al-Bashir blamed violence during anti-government protests on conspirators, the state SUNA news agency quoted him as saying — conspirators who "planted traitors among us."
Atbara is a traditional bastion of dissent and one of several cities where anti-government demonstrations began Dec. 19, initially over rising prices and shortages but which quickly shifted to calls for al-Bashir to step down.
As al-Bashir spoke at the Khartoum rally, hundreds of protesters in Omdurman chanted, "revolution is the people's choice" and "freedom, dignity and justice."
Police used tear gas and fired in the air to disperse them before they could deliver their note to the legislature. There were no reports of casualties.
Sudan's Parliament is packed with al-Bashir's loyalists, who are campaigning to amend the constitution to allow the general-turned-president, already one of the longest serving leaders in the region, to run for a new term in 2020 elections.
SUNA reported in August that the country's ruling party has nominated al-Bashir for re-election in 2020.
Sudan's economy has stagnated for most of al-Bashir's rule. He has also failed to unite or keep the peace in the religiously and ethnically diverse nation, losing three quarters of Sudan's oil wealth when the mainly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 following a referendum.
Critics say rampant corruption is eating up a significant part of government funds and engineering shortages of basic items to manipulate prices. The protesters have been chanting against the "government of thieves."
Authorities have said that 19 people died in the three weeks of protests, while Human Rights Watch said Tuesday at least 40 people have been killed since the protests erupted. Sudan's Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman told lawmakers on Tuesday that police have arrested 816 people.
Libreville, Jan 7 (AP/UNB) — Soldiers in Gabon have appeared on state television saying they have launched a coup to "restore democracy" in the West African country.
Early Monday a soldier who identified himself as Lt. Obiang Ondo Kelly, commander of the Republican Guard, read out a statement saying the military has seized control of the government. He was flanked by two other soldiers holding weapons and all were dressed in camouflage uniforms and green berets.
A curfew has been imposed over the capital, Libreville, and the internet has been cut. The city on the Atlantic Ocean coast is being patrolled by military tanks and armed vehicles. No violence has been reported.
President Ali Bongo, in power since 2009, has been out of the country since October amid reports that he had a stroke. He recently addressed the country in a New Year's message that was filmed in Morocco, where he has been receiving medical treatment.
Oil-rich Gabon has been ruled for more than half a century by Bongo and his father, Omar, who died in 2009. Critics have accused the family of profiting from the country's natural resources while not investing enough in basic services for the population of more than 2 million.
In his brief New Year's speech, the 59-year-old Bongo declared that the country was "indivisible" and acknowledged his health problems without giving details. "A difficult period," he called it, and a challenge that he surmounted "thanks to God." He promised to put all of his efforts into improving the daily quality of life for Gabon's people.
The French-educated Bongo, who was the country's defense minister before becoming president, narrowly won re-election in 2016 while opposition rival Jean Ping claimed irregularities and continues to call himself the country's real president.