Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition will call for peaceful demonstrations across the country early next week to protest against Joseph Kabila's disputed election victory, a situation France's foreign minister Alain Juppe described on Sunday as explosive.
Tensions are high in the vast minerals-rich central African state after a November 28 poll, its second post-war vote, marred by deadly violence, disorganisation and allegations of fraud. Both sides have claimed victory.
Juppe said on France's TV5 and RFI radio that it was hard to know exactly what had happened during Congo's elections, and Paris had tried to pass messages to both camps to stop violence and begin dialogue, but until now nobody had listened.
The situation is explosive. I am totally aware of this because the temptation to turn to violence is extremely strong so we are trying to do everything to avoid it, Juppe said.
A spokesman for Etienne Tshisekedi, who came second according to provisional results, but declared himself president on Friday, said the veteran opposition leader was hopeful the international community would mediate a solution to the crisis.
We insist that the protests will be non-violent... The population know this may be a long, long walk but they are ready for it, Albert Moleka told Reuters.
Kinshasa, Congo's populous capital on the banks of the Congo river was mostly quiet with reports of sporadic gunfire on Sunday amid a security crackdown which has seen police and military mobilised and the SMS message network suspended nationwide.
Congo's police chief General Charles Bisengimana said at least four prisoners were shot dead after an attempted breakout from a Kinshasa jail early on Sunday, but gave no details of any other casualties of post-election violence.
It's calm, life is getting back to normal and people are going about their business, Bisengimana said by telephone when asked about the general security situation in the country.
The elections, only the second since the country emerged from a vicious civil war in 2003, have come under growing criticism for irregularities and alleged fraud.
The Carter Center, the U.S.-based watchdog, said in a report on Saturday that the provisional results released by the electoral commission (CENI) lacked credibility, joining a growing number of voices to express concern over the elections.
A turnout of more than 100 percent in Kabila's home region and the disappearance of results from more than 2,000 polling stations in the largely opposition capital suggested serious irregularities, the rights group said in a statement.
It is evident that multiple locations, notably several Katanga province constituencies, reported impossibly high rates of 99 to 100 percent voter turnout with all, or nearly all, votes going to incumbent President Joseph Kabila, it said.
These and other observations point to mismanagement of the results process and compromise the integrity of the presidential election, the statement said.
FEARS OF CONFLICT
Part funded by Western donors including Britain, the United States and the European Union, the elections are seen as crucial to re-enforcing stability in Congo. But there are fears that a contested result could drag the country back into conflict.
Security forces and opposition supporters clashed across the country on Friday and Saturday, with gunfire being reported in several cities and at least one person killed.
In London on Saturday evening, police arrested 143 people after a demonstration against Kabila's re-election, a day after about 200 people were arrested in similar violent protests in Brussels, capital of Congo's former colonial ruler Belgium.
Other observer groups have expressed concern about problems in the run up to the polls, and the European Union is expected to release a statement in the coming days.
The electoral commission, headed by an adviser to Kabila, said it would launch an investigation into the irregularities. CENI spokesman Mathieu Mpita said he was very disturbed by some of the figures. The Supreme Court is expected to ratify the results before December 17.
The government has warned Tshisekedi that declaring himself president is illegal and may spark further violence. Britain and the African Union are among those who have called for calm.
Moleka said Western and African nations were expected to become more involved in trying to end the standoff, and contacts had already been made with some governments.
Kabila, who came to power in 2001 following the assassination of his father, before winning elections in 2006, has yet to speak following the results.
Tshisekedi had hoped to capitalise on growing frustrations within the country over the government's failure to tackle corruption or insecurity, particularly in the east of the country, where rebel groups still roam.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Rosalind Russell and Louise Ireland)