January 1, 2019 / 11:00 AM / 6 months ago

Congo cuts internet for second day to avert 'chaos' before poll results

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s government cut internet connections and SMS services across the country for a second straight day on Tuesday as the country nervously awaited results from the weekend’s chaotic presidential election.

FILE PHOTO: Agents of Congo's National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) count casted ballot papers after election at a polling station in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe/File Photo

Both the opposition and ruling coalition said on Monday they were on track to win after a turbulent election day on Sunday in which many Congolese were unable to vote due to an Ebola outbreak, conflict and logistical problems.

Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi, a senior adviser to President Joseph Kabila, said internet and SMS services were cut to preserve public order after “fictitious results” began circulating on social media.

“That could lead us straight toward chaos,” Kikaya told Reuters, adding the connections would remain cut until the publication of complete results on Jan. 6.

The signal to Radio France Internationale (RFI), one of the most popular news sources in Congo, was also down, and the government withdrew the accreditation of RFI’s main correspondent in the country late on Monday for having aired unofficial results from the opposition.

The various moves reflected high tensions in Congo, where the long-delayed election was meant to choose a successor to Kabila, who is due to step down next month after 18 years in power - and two years after the official end of his mandate.

Congo has never seen a democratic transfer of power, and any disputed outcome could lead to a repeat of the violence that followed the 2006 and 2011 elections and a wider security breakdown in its volatile eastern provinces.

The opposition says the election was marred by fraud and accused Kabila of planning to rule from the sidelines through his preferred candidate, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

Internal U.N. reports, seen by Reuters, noted allegations of irregularities across the country. In some parts of eastern Congo’s North Kivu province, for example, militia fighters reportedly forced voters to select candidates from the ruling coalition, they said.

In other places, the United Nations received reports that security forces intimidated voters to choose ruling coalition candidates.

The government and national electoral commission (CENI) said the election was fair and that any problems were minor.

FEARS OF VIOLENCE

In the eastern city of Goma, residents were on edge as they awaited the results.

“If the results during the publication of the presidential results don’t reflect the truth ... trouble will break out across the city,” said Fabrice Shweka, a Goma resident.

The first partial results were initially expected on Tuesday but CENI spokesman Jean-Pierre Kalamba said that they would not be ready until around Friday.

“We don’t want to release too many voting trends (before Jan. 6) because in our country we don’t have a population that has the same understanding (of electoral practice as in Europe),” he told Reuters.

In a statement late on Monday, the embassies in Congo of the European United, United States and several other countries called for calm and urged the government to restore internet access.

Shadary faced off in Sunday’s poll against two main opposition challengers, Felix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu, both of whom opinion polls before the vote showed running ahead of Shadary.

Fayulu complained in a statement on Monday about irregularities during Sunday’s vote but said he was encouraged by the determination of Congolese to vote despite long queues and voting machines that broke down.

“I call for vigilance across the board and the general mobilization of all Congolese so that the truth of the ballot box, the sole witness to the will of the Congolese people, can reward their efforts and sacrifices,” he said.

Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross, Editing by William Maclean

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