KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Police fired tear gas at supporters of Congo’s top opposition leader Friday as he planned to inaugurate himself president despite officially losing the poll, a move that observers fear could spark more election-related violence in the mineral-rich central African nation.
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Some 1,000 supporters gathered near Kinshasa’s Martyrs’ Stadium Friday morning. Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi had announced that he planned to hold the ceremony there. Police also thronged Tshisekedi’s neighborhood, possibly in an effort to keep him from reaching the stadium.
Tshisekedi declared himself the winner of the Nov. 28 poll that international and local observers say lacked credibility. President Joseph Kabila was inaugurated earlier this week.
Kabila first came to power after his father’s assassination and now has led the massive, mineral-rich Central African nation for a decade. Presidential election results showed Kabila with 49 percent, and Tshisekedi with 32 percent of the nearly 19 million votes cast. Some international observers, however, have said the turnout was impossibly high in some districts.
Kabila was declared winner following constitutional reforms he pushed through parliament limiting the election to one round. Under the old rules, any winner had to have more than 50 percent of votes.
Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that security forces have killed at least 24 people and detained dozens in attacks to quell dissent over the much-criticized vote.
Tshisekedi has previously proclaimed himself president and last month ordered his followers to stage jailbreaks to free detained colleagues.
Observers fear unrest if Tshisekedi – a 79-year-old longtime opposition leader who is enormously popular with the country’s impoverished masses – orders his supporters to take to the streets.
The November election was only the second democratic vote in Congo’s 51-year history, and the first to be organized by the Congolese government rather than by the international community.
Congo, which is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country, has suffered decades of dictatorship and civil war. The country’s east is still wracked by violence perpetrated by dozens of militia and rebel groups.