The main challenger in Democratic Republic of Congo’s election declared himself president on Friday and poured scorn on provisional official results handing victory to Congolese President Joseph Kabila.
Clashes broke out between tire-burning protesters and security forces in the mostly pro-opposition capital, Kinshasa, as fears mounted that a post-election dispute could reignite conflict in the war-scarred central African state.
Congolese electoral commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda announced on Friday that Kabila won about 49 percent of the votes to rival, Congolese Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi’s roughly 32 percent, results an observer group later said appeared suspicious.
In Washington, the administration of US President Barack Obama called on Congolese -authorities to complete the election process “with maximum openness and transparency.”
US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also said the Kinshasa government “remains responsible for providing security for the people of the Congo” and that anyone involved in violence “must be held accountable.”
Mulunda called for calm.
“[The results] are no reason to whip up the population against the established order to contest the results, or to settle scores,” he told officials and diplomats gathered to hear the results.
Tshisekedi said he rejected Kabila’s victory and considered himself the newly elected leader of Congo.
“I consider these results a real provocation of the Congolese people,” he said in an interview on Radio France International (RFI) radio. “As a consequence, I consider myself, from today, the elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Opposition supporters burned tires in parts of Kinshasa, a sprawling city of 10 million, and chanted Tshisekedi’s campaign slogan, “The people first.” A UN source said there had been clashes with security forces and reports of shooting.
At least 18 people have been killed in election-related violence, according to US-based Human Rights Watch, as opposition protesters took to the streets alleging the government was attempting to rig the vote.
The Nov. 28 poll was Congo’s first locally organized presidential contest since a war that killed more than 5 million, and was meant to move the country toward stability and encourage investment after years of conflict and turmoil.
Congolese Communications Minister Lambert Mende said Tshisekedi’s self-declaration as president was “nonsense and illegal” and warned that it could spark violence.
“We are calling for Mr Thshisekedi to come back to legality and not to threaten the peace of the country just because the people didn’t choose him,” he said by telephone.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Congolese on Friday to avoid violence over the results.
The announcement of the result had been delayed twice earlier in the week because of logistical problems and as donor nations urged more transparency, stretching the nerves of residents both eager for and worried about the outcome.
An international observer said workers were analyzing results posted on the election commission Web site, but that they had already spotted a number of irregularities, notably in Katanga, where Kabila scored particularly well.
In some districts of Katanga, voter turnout was pegged at nearly 100 percent with all or nearly all of the votes going to Kabila, according to the Web site.