, KINSHASA, Dec 7 – The Democratic Republic of Congo’s election commission postponed on Tuesday declaring the winner of polls amid fears the result could lead to new violence as protests exploded worldwide.
The conflict-prone country has been on high alert while it awaits the final results after a campaign that saw deadly police crackdowns on opposition rallies and a series of clashes between rival partisans.
Early results showed President Joseph Kabila heading for re-election.
But the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said late on Tuesday it needed more time to compile final results from around the vast central African country, promising a full count within 48 hours.
“We don’t have all the results sheets from the 169 local results compilation centres,” CENI spokesman Matthieu Mpita told AFP.
“That’s why we had to postpone the provisional results. To respect the law, we need to have all the results sheets in our possession.”
He said officials hoped to release new results covering 80 to 85 percent of polling centres at a briefing scheduled for Tuesday night.
The postponement came after police fired tear gas to disperse opposition supporters in Kinshasa.
Kabila, in power since 2001, was ahead in the field of 11 candidates with 46.4 percent after ballots from just over two-thirds of polling centres had been tallied, according to results issued early on Tuesday.
His main challenger, veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, was trailing on 36.2 percent.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been holding its breath since the vote, which was marred by chaos and rioting at polling stations and deadly rebel attacks in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi.
Washington called on all political factions to reject violence and for the authorities to protect the population.
“Violence has no place in the democratic process,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
“The United States urges all Congolese political leaders and their supporters to act responsibly and to renounce violence, and reminds the government of the DRC of its responsibility to provide security for the Congolese population.”
Some 20,000 soldiers are on stand-by at bases in Kinshasa, and convoys of large trucks packed with armed police carrying gas masks were seen on the capital’s unusually quiet streets.
Heavy police patrols fired tear gas and repeatedly dispersed opposition supporters outside the headquarters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Tshisekedi’s party.
In Mbuji-Mayi, capital of Kasai Oriental province and a Tshisekedi stronghold, authorities had imposed a 10pm to 6am curfew.
In Lubumbashi, Kabila’s presidential guard was deployed.
Tensions spilled over Tuesday into the Congolese Diaspora.
In London, some 300 anti-Kabila protesters accusing Western countries of backing the incumbent clashed with police outside Prime Minister David Cameron’s residence. Two people were treated for injuries and 17 arrested on suspicion of obstructing a highway, a Scotland Yard spokesman said.
In Toronto, some 150 protesters swarmed a police car and dirt was thrown at officers, prompting an emergency radio call for back-up.
Two people were arrested, a police spokeswoman said.
Congolese protesters also clashed with police Monday in Brussels, where nearly 100 Tshisekedi supporters were arrested according to the Belga news agency, and in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The International Crisis Group has put the DR Congo on its “conflict risk alert” list, citing clashes in Kinshasa on the eve of the polls, the attacks in Lubumbashi on voting day and a call from several opposition candidates for the vote to be annulled.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo issued a warning to the rival camps on Tuesday.
“We are closely watching the situation on the ground, and recourse to violence will not be accepted,” he said in a statement.
The elections are just the second since back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2003 in a country ranked last on the UN’s development index despite a wealth of cobalt, copper, diamonds and gold.
Election officials had to bring in more than 80 aircraft to get ballots distributed to some 64,000 polling stations in a country two-thirds the size of Western Europe, and poor infrastructure has made counting equally slow.
The supreme court has until December 17 to review the result and declare the official winner. Provisional parliamentary results are due in mid-January.