KINSHASA Gunfire erupted in parts of Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday, with reports of police firing live ammunition and crowds ransacking shops, a day after election authorities declared President Joseph Kabila re-elected.
The U.S.-based Carter Center observer mission said the results issued by Congo's election commission "lack credibility"
and pointed to uncounted ballots in opposition strongholds and "impossibly high" turnout in places where Kabila is favored.
Shooting rang out in some cities, including the capital Kinshasa, after Kabila's main challenger, Etienne Tshisekedi, said he rejected the official results and declared himself the new leader of the vast central African state.
Tresor Nkuna, a resident of Kinshasa, an urban sprawl of 10 million people, said: "We haven't been able to sleep because of the gunfire. We don't know when it'll stop, it's very violent."
Many other parts of Kinshasa were quiet with people staying indoors, witnesses said, but clashes between protesters and security forces were reported elsewhere in the country, with the United Nations reporting at least one dead. Protests also erupted in former colonial power Belgium. [ID:nL5E7NA04B]
Congo's November 28 vote was its first locally-organized presidential contest since a 1998-2003 war that killed more than 5 million people, and was meant to move the country on a path to greater stability. But the poll was marked by violence, chaotic preparations and allegations of fraud.
Concerns are mounting of a prolonged and violent dispute over the outcome, and diplomatic sources have said international mediation efforts may be needed to avert a crisis.
Congo's election commission announced on Friday that Kabila took nearly 49 percent of the votes to Tshisekedi's roughly 32 percent, winning Kabila a new mandate. The results must now be ratified by the Supreme Court.
Tshisekedi called the results "a provocation" and said he considered himself Congo's new president.
In the Manono district of Katanga, where Kabila has strong support, voter turnout was recorded at 100.14 percent with Kabila winning 99.98 percent of the votes. Elsewhere in Katanga, turnout was also recorded around 100 percent.
The Carter Center issued a statement on Saturday saying the election results lacked credibility, adding that candidates had limited time to submit complaints to the Supreme Court.
"These results aren't even naturally occurring. You simply don't get that many people all being healthy, motivated, getting to the polls and voting in such unison," Carter Center mission manager David Pottie told Reuters.
The election commission website also showed that the results from nearly 2,000 polling stations in opposition stronghold Kinshasa had not been tallied.
An election commission official said the body was planning to investigate some of the results, but added that overwhelming support for Kabila in Katanga was to be expected.
The United States and the African Union urged against post-election violence and called on Congolese security forces to use restraint. The United Nations said challenges to the results should go through the proper legal channels.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday the Kinshasa government "remains responsible for providing security for the people of the Congo" and that anyone involved in violence "must be held accountable."
SITUATION UNDER CONTROL
Congo police chief General Charles Bisengimana acknowledged ongoing clashes on Saturday, but said security forces were "controlling the situation very well."
"People are trying to pillage shops and barricade roads and we are dispersing them," he told Reuters by telephone.
A United Nations source said some civilians appeared to be armed and were shooting in parts of Kinshasa.
Trucks loaded with police and military were moving in and out of the area near Tshisekedi's residence, where the remnants of burnt tires and makeshift roadblocks were scattered.
"Security is chaotic, the police are arresting people for no reason, I've heard lots of gunshots," said Albert Utudi, a resident of Matete district.
Anti-western sentiment was running high with many Tshisekedi supporters accusing foreigners of backing Kabila. A Reuters car was stoned by angry residents in Ndjili district.
In the Kasai provinces, where support for Tshisekedi is strong, clashes erupted between stone-throwing protesters and security forces, an official said.
"After Tshisekedi declared himself president his supporters took to the streets, throwing stones and pillaging," said East Kasai's governor Alphonse Kasanji. "The army are deployed in trouble spots and the police are mobilized everywhere."
Alphonse Kasuasua, an official who coordinates civil society groups in East Kasai, said security forces were using live bullets.
"I tried to go out this morning but the security forces were firing to force people back into their homes," Kasuasua said, adding that he had heard reports of one person killed.
The U.N. reported at least one casualty in Kananga, the capital of neighboring West Kasai.
In Brussels, police arrested about 200 people late on Friday after protesters threw Molotov cocktails and smashed shop windows.
At least 18 people had been killed in election-related clashes in Congo by earlier this week, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, as opposition supporters accused Kabila's government of vote rigging.
Kabila came to power when his father, Laurent, was assassinated in 2001. The younger Kabila later won the country's 2006 election. He has struggled to control marauding rebel groups in Congo's east despite U.N. backing.
Congo is last on the U.N. human development index despite rich mineral resources, and investors say it remains one of the most challenging countries in the world in which to do business.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by David Cowell and Alessandra Rizzo)