DRC poll commission accused of bias
Kinshasa - The party of President Joseph Kabila's top rival accused the DR Congo's election commission on Saturday of releasing biased poll results as officials rushed to tally votes amid fears of fresh unrest.
Monday's elections are just the second since back-to-back wars that gripped the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1996 to 2003, and the long wait for results has filled with tensions as charges have swirled of vote fraud and plans for violence.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni) published early results ahead of schedule on Friday, saying it wanted to staunch the flood of fake numbers circulating since a vote that was marred by logistical chaos, deadly violence and rioting at polling centres.
The partial results, reflecting 15% of some 64 000 poll stations, gave Kabila 52% and veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi 34%, leading the nine other candidates.
But the figures included less than 1% of polling centres in the capital Kinshasa, where Tshisekedi has strong support, while in Katanga province, a traditional Kabila stronghold, 27% of polling centres were reported.
Results ‘a provocation’
Tshisekedi's Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) called the tally "a crude attempt to mislead the Congolese people and the international community by publishing results from areas favourable to Kabila."
UDPS general secretary Jacquemin Shabani called the results a "provocation".
"It's irresponsible," he said. "Why only 0.02% of polling centres from Kinshasa, when we know - and we have witnesses - that at 90% of polling centres the result is already known?"
The Ceni said it would release more figures on Saturday at 16:00 (15:00 GMT).
The first official numbers - originally not expected until on Tuesday, when overall preliminary presidential results are due - did little to stop a rush of speculation and chicanery around the vote.
On the streets of Kinshasa, a table of results purportedly from the non-existent International Democracy Observatory showed Kabila up by 22 points.
Ceni: Website hacked
The Ceni said its website had been hacked on Friday and fake results showing Tshisekedi in the lead were briefly posted there.
Amid a rush of rumours and conspiracy theories circulating by text message - that the Ceni has been flying in ballots pre-marked for Kabila, that the ink in Ceni pens disappears after half an hour - the cell phone messaging service crashed on Friday night on the country's largest mobile operator, Vodacom.
In Kinshasa and Lubumbashi it was virtually impossible to send an SMS on Saturday, adding to the paranoid climate.
"Vodacom's customer service department says that (the interruption) is under government orders and that the same applies to the other networks," one internet user said in an online post.
18 civilians killed in election-related violence
Government spokesperson Lambert Mende denied authorities had given any instruction to mobile operators to interrupt the service.
A Vodacom spokesperson said the crash was a "system problem".
Adding to the charged atmosphere - already heavy with opposition calls for the vote to be annulled and ruling coalition accusations that Tshisekedi's party is plotting a post-poll insurrection - Human Rights Watch said on Friday that election-related violence had killed at least 18 civilians.
The New York-based rights group said most of the victims were shot dead by Kabila's presidential guard near the capital's airport during a crackdown on Tshisekedi supporters who had gathered for his final campaign rally on Saturday.
Other civilians were killed and wounded during clashes between rival parties, attacks by armed groups and mob violence, HRW said.
The government denied there had been any deaths near the airport.
"There wasn't a single person killed or wounded" there, Mende told AFP.
He acknowledged some of the report's findings, but accused HRW of making "gratuitous accusations" against the presidential guard, which he said fired shots in the air to disperse a hostile crowd.
The UN Security Council added its voice on Friday to the multiplying calls for peace, saying "all candidates should maintain a calm and peaceful environment, exercise restraint, await the results ... and resolve their differences peacefully".