Congo: Opposition leader Tshisekedi wins presidential vote

Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Congolese main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), and a presidential candidate, leaves after casting his ballot at a polling station in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 30, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Congo: Opposition leader Tshisekedi wins presidential vote

  • Some Congolese weary of Kabila’s long rule, two turbulent years of election delays and years of conflict that killed millions of people said they simply wanted peace

KINSHASA, Congo: Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has won the presidential election, the electoral commission announced early Thursday, as the vast country braced for possible protests over alleged rigging.
Tshisekedi, who received more than 7 million votes or 38 percent, had not been widely considered the leading candidate. Some observers have suggested that President Joseph Kabila’s government sought to make a deal as hopes faded for a win for ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. Shadary received more than 4 million votes or 23 percent.
It is not immediately clear whether opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, who led in polling and warned against manipulation, will contest the results. The constitutional court has 14 days to validate them. Fayulu received more than 6 million votes or 38 percent.
Tshisekedi, son of late opposition icon Etienne yet relatively unknown, has achieved what his father pursued for decades.
The delayed results come after international pressure to announce an outcome that reflected the will of the people. The United States threatened sanctions against officials who rigged the vote. Election observers had reported numerous irregularities.
Kabila has ruled since 2001 in the troubled nation rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world. This could be Congo’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.
Observers before dawn waited to see how Congolese would respond, especially after Fayulu this week warned that the results were “not negotiable” amid speculation of a possible deal. Kabila has amassed vast wealth and is expected to protect it. Fayulu has pledged to clean up the country’s widespread corruption.
Activist groups on Wednesday urged people to “be ready to massively take to the streets” if results didn’t match “the truth of the ballot boxes.”
Attention turns to Congo’s powerful Catholic church, which has said its 40,000 election observers at all polling stations found a “clear winner” but was barred by electoral regulations from saying more.
If the church found Fayulu won, “how will population react?” Stephanie Wolters, analyst with the Institute for Security Studies, posted on Twitter ahead of the announcement. She added, will the African Union “consider a power transfer ‘enough’ or will they push for investigation and real result?“
The largely peaceful election was marred by the malfunctioning of many voting machines that Congo used for the first time. Dozens of polling centers opened hours late as materials went missing. And in a last-minute decision, some 1 million of the country’s 40 million voters were barred from participating, with the electoral commission blaming a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.
Defiantly, tens of thousands of voters in one of the barred communities held their own ballot on election day. Fayulu won easily.
Congo’s government cut Internet service the day after the vote to prevent speculation on social media. As the electoral commission met this week, anti-riot police moved into place outside.
Some Congolese weary of Kabila’s long rule, two turbulent years of election delays and years of conflict that killed millions of people said they simply wanted peace. “As long as Fayulu or Tshisekedi wins, it will be fine,” some said, recalling the violence that followed past disputed elections.
Many Congolese objected to Kabila’s preferred successor, Shadary, suspecting that Kabila would continue to rule from behind the scenes.
Now Congo faces a new leader who is little known after spending many years in Belgium and living in the shadow of his outspoken father.
On Wednesday afternoon, hours before results were announced, some Tshisekedi supporters began to celebrate at his Union for Democracy and Social Progress party headquarters, with calendars already printed saying “Felix Tshisekedi president.”
The 56-year-old Tshisekedi took over as head of Congo’s most prominent opposition party in early 2018, a year after his father’s death. He briefly joined other opposition leaders in a coalition backing Fayulu late last year but left to join forces with the party backing Vital Kamerhe, who finished third in the 2011 election.
Some Congolese have said Tshisekedi lost support by splitting the opposition. He was less visible in campaigning than Fayulu and did not make himself available to reporters after the vote. As he cast his ballot, he accused Congo’s government of deliberately creating a mess to spark a court challenge that could allow Kabila to extend his time in power.
“I deplore all the disorder,” Tshisekedi said.


Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

Updated 13 min 33 sec ago
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Sri Lanka in lockdown after deadly blasts leave scores dead

  • Eight blasts have ripped through churches and hotels
  • Social media blocked across the country in temporary ban

COLOMBO: An eight blasth has been reported in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, as the government announced an immediate curfew.

The curfew will begin on Sunday night at 6:00pm local time (1230 GMT) and run until 6:00am local time (0030 GMT), the Sri Lankan defense ministry said.

The attack took place just hours after a string of bombings ripped through churches and hotels on Sunday monrning, killing at least 160 people.

Access to major social media platforms and messaging services has been shut down by the Sri Lankan government.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the seventh blast hit a hotel in the southern Colombo suburb of Dehiwala, killing two people.

A hospital source said Americans, British and Dutch citizens were among those killed in the six blasts, which also injured hundreds of people.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the blasts as “cowardly” and said the government was working to “contain the situation.”

The public has been told to excercise caution in the following days, with emergency numbers being circulated for people who want to seek help.

The country’s police chief made a nationwide alert 10 days before the blasts that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches,” according to the warning seen by AFP.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalization of Buddhist statues.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 42 people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.

The first explosions were reported at St. Anthony’s Shrine — a church in Colombo — and St. Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital. Dozens of people injured in the St. Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.

“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.

Inside St. Anthony's Shrine where one of the bombings took place. (AFP)

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.

An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant. He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.

An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.

(Reuters)

“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St. Anthony’s Shrine, and described “horrible scenes.” “I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added. Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.

The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood. Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries. The images could not immediately be verified.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the deadly string of Easter Sunday attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka as “truly appalling.”