Contested Congo Election Fuels Fears Of Violence

A disputed election in the Democratic Republic of Congo has returned sitting President Joseph Kabila to power for the next five years. The opposition claims there was election fraud. Congo's influential Catholic church has voiced reservations about the conduct of the elections.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's follow up now on the disputed election in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That election has returned the sitting president to power for the next five years. But his reelection does not seem to be bringing stability. In fact, his victory has fueled fears of violence, amid opposition claims of voting fraud. From the capital, Kinshasa, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: When President Joseph Kabila was declared the winner of the November 28th vote by the election commission last Friday, his supporters, like Victoria Kabange, took to the streets of Kinshasa in wild celebration.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

VICTORIA KABANGE: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Kabange says Kabila, who's 40, deserved to win, because he is good for Congo and has built roads and ensured the development of this vast but troubled postwar nation. Kinshasa is the urban stronghold of Kabila's main presidential challenger, Etienne Tshisekedi.

ETIENNE TSHISEKEDI: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: He rejects the outcome of the elections, saying it's pure provocation and that he considers himself president.

Tshisekedi's angry young followers claim their 78-year-old candidate has been robbed of the presidency. They're threatening to take to the streets in protest. Tshisekedi has appealed for calm and told the youth to await his instructions.

Over the weekend, heavily armed riot police rounded up stone-throwing and other opposition supporters in Kinshasa. New York-based Human Rights Watch says 18 people were killed during the election period, pointing a finger at the presidential guard, a claim President Kabila contests.

PRESIDENT JOSEPH KABILA: You've definitely seen violence from the opposition. Have you seen violence from the security forces? I don't think so. If we were to have violence from the security forces, you will agree with me that we could have had tens, if not hundreds of deaths. It's not the case.

QUIST-ARCTON: Congo's influential Catholic Church has voiced its reservations about the conduct of the elections. The U.N. peacekeeping mission here has also spoken out, asking the electoral commission to review concerns raised by observers, including the Atlanta-based Carter Center. It questions the 100 percent voter turnout in pro-Kabila areas, saying this is statistically highly unusual.

The president concedes there were mistakes during the vote, but denies it was manipulated in his favor or lacks credibility. Kabila says his focus has now shifted to other priorities for Congo.

KABILA: People in this country don't need, don't want another turmoil, another conflict, another crisis. Our biggest challenge is the war on poverty.

QUIST-ARCTON: Mineral-rich yet desperately poor Congo sits bang in the middle of Africa. Maintaining stability and peace is vital in this giant former Belgian colony that has lived through decades of dictatorship and back-to-back rebellions. That, says Brussels-based historian and Congo expert Theodore Trefon, is why Congo's international partners are not making more noise.

THEODORE TREFON: If we're talking about Congo's traditional partners, such as the U.S. or Belgium or France, these partners are relatively content with the way that things have unfolded, because even though they have no love affair with Kabila, at least they know more or less what to expect.

QUIST-ARCTON: President Kabila says his critics must stop Congo-bashing and must simply judge him on his record of development and maintaining peace.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kinshasa.

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